Science of the Spirit
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Question

Are social networking internet sites a factor in psychotic symptoms?

Social Internet Sites
© Chums IT Systems
As Internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as Internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story, says Dr. Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Center in a new paper published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.

In his study, the researcher presented three in-depth case studies linking psychotic episodes to Internet communications from his own practice. According to Dr. Nitzan, patients shared some crucial characteristics, including loneliness or vulnerability due to the loss of or separation from a loved one, relative inexperience with technology, and no prior history of psychosis or substance abuse. In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care, Dr. Nitzan says.
People

Is that nervous feeling social anxiety disorder, or is it simply a case of being shy?

Rhode Island Hospital researcher explores common mental disorder, treatment options and its impact on daily life

Most people are faced with embarrassment or humiliation at some point in their lives. Maybe they get nervous before a big presentation to the bosses at work. Maybe they get a bit anxious thinking about approaching an attractive stranger at a party. But where is the line between normal shyness and social anxiety disorder?

Rhode Island Hospital researcher Kristy L. Dalrymple, Ph.D., of the department of psychiatry, explores the variances between the two, and discusses the differing beliefs of over, and under-, diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (SAD) and its treatment options in a paper published in the Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics.

"There are many differing opinions about social anxiety disorder and the best treatment," Dalrymple said. "Should it be treated with medication, behavioral therapy, or both? The significant increase in the prescription of antidepressant medications (which often are used to treat SAD) over the past several years - an increase of 400 percent -- should be considered when determining the best approach. Are we simply medicating, or are we helping patients to truly improve their quality of life?"
Bulb

Our unconscious minds can perform complex operations

© Bevan Von Weichardt / Shutterstock
Who would have ever thought we could solve math equations in our sleep? Well, maybe our level of unconsciousness might have to be a bit more elevated but researchers from the Psychology Department at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have found that we can actually read words and phrases or even solve multi-step mathematical problems without our having been consciously aware of them.

The team, headed by Dr. Ran Hassin, along with Dr. Anat Maril and graduate students Asael Sklar, Ariel Goldstein, Nir Levy and Roi Mandel, concluded that people can read and do math non-consciously. Their findings fly in the face of existing theories regarding unconscious processes. These previous theories state that reading and solving math problems, which are two prime examples of complex, rule-based operations, do, in fact, require consciousness.

The team was able to present sentences and equations unconsciously to their subject group of 270 university students. The technique they employed was Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) which leaves one eye of the participant exposed to a series of rapidly changing images while the other eye is simultaneously exposed to a constant image. The rapidity of images to one eye dominates the consciousness of the participant. This allows the constant image to not be experienced consciously.
People

We're in this together: A pathbreaking investigation into the evolution of cooperative behavior

Humans are much more inclined to cooperate than are their closest evolutionary relatives. The prevailing wisdom about why this is true has long been focused on the idea of altruism: we go out of our way to do nice things for other people, sometimes even sacrificing personal success for the good of others. Modern theories of cooperative behavior suggest that acting selflessly in the moment provides a selective advantage to the altruist in the form of some kind of return benefit.

A new study published by Current Anthropology offers another explanation for our unusual aptitude for collaboration. The authors of the study argue that humans developed cooperative skills because it was in their mutual interest to work well with others - indeed ecological circumstances forced them to cooperate with others to obtain food. In other words, altruism isn't the reason we cooperate; we must cooperate in order to survive, and we are altruistic to others because we need them.

Previous theories located the origin of cooperation in either small group settings or large, sophisticated societies. Based on results from cognitive and psychological experiments and research on human development, this study provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of cooperation as a two-step process, which begins in small hunter-gatherer groups and becomes more complex and culturally inscribed in larger societies later on.
Family

Fear of the dentist is passed on to children by their parents

© Unknown
The father acts as an intermediary for dentist fear between both mother and children.


Fear of visiting the dentist is a frequent problem in paediatric dentistry. A new study confirms the emotional transmission of dentist fear among family members and analyses the different roles that mothers and fathers might play.

A new study conducted by scientists at the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid highlights the important role that parents play in the transmission of dentist fear in their family.

Previous studies had already identified the association between the fear levels of parents and their children, but they never explored the different roles that the father and the mother play in this phenomenon.

América Lara Sacido, one of the authors of the study explains that "along with the presence of emotional transmission of dentist fear amongst family members, we have identified the relevant role that fathers play in transmission of this phobia in comparison to the mother."
Info

'Channeling spirits' shuts down parts of brain

Spiritual State
© Corbis
By studying how the brain as it enters a 'spiritual' state may eventually offer insights into the roots of religion and why some people are more devout than others.
During a trance-like session of psychography, experienced mediums in Brazil allow themselves to become receptive to spirits or dead souls. Then they write automatically, channeling the voices of those they believe to be speaking to them.

As these mediums communicate with the dead, found a new study, parts of their brains involved in language and purposeful activity shut down, alongside other patterns of increased and decreased activity.

The findings add to our limited understanding of how the spiritual brain works, though for now, science cannot speak to the existence of the spirit world.

"I don't think this does anything to make (the experience) less real or less profound or to make it less important in the moment," said Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

"At some point, maybe we will design the perfect study that can prove there were not spirits there and this is just a fascinating way that the brain works," he added. "At the moment, all we're really doing is saying that this is what happens in the brain when you do this particular practice."

In an attempt to understand how the human brain experiences spirituality, Newberg and colleagues have studied a range of practices, including yoga, meditation, prayer and speaking in tongues.

This time, he turned to psychography, one of a variety of practices associated with mediums, who lose their own sense of self as they connect with external souls.
Bulb

Mental and cognitive benefits of dancing makes you smarter

© Unknown
If you've ever watched ABC's hit TV show Dancing with the Stars, then you know that dancing is hard work. Dance has long been known as being an excellent way to stay physically fit. But could there be mental and cognitive benefits to dancing as well?

Recently, a major study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that dance can be a powerful way to improve brain health. Research focused on the effect of dancing on the brain. It measured factors such as memory, sense of well-being, serotonin, and stress levels.

The study showed that while exercise is good for your overall health, only one exercise (the study included other exercise like swimming and biking and cognitive exercise like crossword puzzles) had the biggest impact when it came to improving overall cognitive skills. That exercise - you guessed it - is frequent dancing.

Your Brain Should Tango!

Scientists found that dancing combines many beneficial facets as we age including recreational benefits and creative thinking. Dancing holds clues to health benefits such as stress reduction, increased serotonin level, and a love of life.

It turns out dancing incorporates several simultaneous brain functions like rational thinking (keep in step with your partner), music, and an emotional sense of well being.
Info

Breaking study is the first to show link between being present in the moment and ageless DNA

DNA
© PreventDisease
Scientific studies have suggested that a mind that is present and in the moment indicates well-being, whereas shifting our energy to the past or future can lead to unhappiness. Now, a preliminary UCSF study shows a link between mind wandering and aging, by looking at a biological measure of longevity within our DNA.

In the study, telomere length, an emerging biomarker for cellular and general bodily aging, was assessed in association with the tendency to be present in the moment versus the tendency to mind wander, in research on 239 healthy, midlife women ranging in age from 50 to 65 years.

Being present in the moment was defined as an inclination to be focused on current tasks, while mind wandering was defined as the inclination to have thoughts about things other than the present or being elsewhere.

Many practitioners of spiritual health tell us not to deny the problems we are facing, but to also not get lost in them either. Psychological sciences have shown us that being present brings us greater alertness and inner security, allowing us to face challenges more objectively and with greater calm.

According to the findings, published online in the new Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science, those who reported more mind wandering had shorter telomeres, while those who reported more presence in the moment, or having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities, had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress.

The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as "junk" but it turns out that so-called junk DNA plays critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health and consciousness because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.
Einstein

Why Einstein was a genius

Einstein's brain
© Brain (2012)/National Museum of Health and Medicine
Not your average brain? Left and right views of Einstein's brain, taken shortly after his death by medical examiner Thomas Harvey.
Albert Einstein is widely regarded as a genius, but how did he get that way? Many researchers have assumed that it took a very special brain to come up with the theory of relativity and other stunning insights that form the foundation of modern physics. A study of 14 newly discovered photographs of Einstein's brain, which was preserved for study after his death, concludes that the brain was indeed highly unusual in many ways. But researchers still don't know exactly how the brain's extra folds and convolutions translated into Einstein's amazing abilities.

The story of Einstein's brain is a long saga that began in 1955 when the Nobel Prize-winning physicist died in Princeton, New Jersey, at age 76. His son Hans Albert and executor Otto Nathan gave the examining pathologist, Thomas Harvey, permission to preserve the brain for scientific study. Harvey photographed the brain and then cut it into 240 blocks, which were embedded in a resinlike substance. He cut the blocks into as many as 2000 thin sections for microscopic study, and in subsequent years distributed microscopic slides and photographs of the brain to at least 18 researchers around the world. With the exception of the slides that Harvey kept for himself, no one is sure where the specimens are now, and many of them have probably been lost as researchers retired or died.

Over the decades, only six peer-reviewed publications resulted from these widely scattered materials. Some of these studies did find interesting features in Einstein's brain, including a greater density of neurons in some parts of the brain and a higher than usual ratio of glia (cells that help neurons transmit nerve impulses) to neurons. Two studies of the brain's gross anatomy, including one published in 2009 by anthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University in Tallahassee, found that Einstein's parietal lobes - possibly linked to his remarkable ability to conceptualize physics problems - had a very unusual pattern of grooves and ridges.
Roses

Odor and the brain: What the nose knows

Smell
© Photos.com
Specific patterns in the nasal passageway that determine which olfactory neurons are associated with which particular odors have remained a mystery for scientists. The human nose has millions of these olfactory neurons grouped into hundreds of different neuron types. And each of these neuron types expresses only one odorant receptor in one region of the brain, allowing that specific odor to be sensed.

Now, researchers from UC Riverside and Stanford University have identified a braking mechanism in these olfactory neurons that helps generate an astonishing diversity of sensors in the nose.

As an example, the researchers said when a person smells a rose, only the neurons that express a specific odor receptor for the chemical emitted by the rose are activated. This in turn activates a specific region in the brain, allowing the person to sense the odor. Each smell activates a different group of neurons and also a different area of the brain.

In their study, the researchers focused on the olfactory receptor for detecting carbon dioxide in the fruit fly (Drosophila). Doing so, they identified a large multi-protein complex in olfactory neurons, called MMB/dREAM, that plays a role in selecting the carbon dioxide receptors to be expressed in specific neurons.
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