Science of the Spirit

Book 2

Tell me a story: Research examines how parents can use books to have a positive impact on their child's social struggles

© The University of Cincinneti
Jennifer Davis Bowman
New research explores the positive effects of reading as part of a parental intervention strategy for children struggling with social issues.

A new study out of the University of Cincinnati not only finds that parents feel responsible about taking action when their children struggle with social issues, but also that parents are influenced by their own childhood memories. Jennifer Davis Bowman, a recent graduate of the special education doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati, will present her research on Aug. 12, at the 108th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, N.Y.

Bowman's study examined parents' use of what's called bibliotherapy - using books as interventions for children who experience social struggles that may arise from disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome.

Bibliotherapy involves books with characters that are facing challenges similar to their reading audience, or books that have stories that can generate ideas for problem-solving activities and discussions. Bowman says previous research found that bibliotherapy can improve communication, attitude and reduce aggression for children with social disabilities.

The adult participants in the study were four caregivers who had concerns about their child's social behavior. One of the participants was raising a grandchild. The other three were biological parents.

Smart enough to know better: Intelligence is not a remedy for racism

Smart people are just as racist as their less intelligent peers - they're just better at concealing their prejudice, according to a University of Michigan study.

"High-ability whites are less likely to report prejudiced attitudes and more likely to say they support racial integration in principle," said Geoffrey Wodtke, a doctoral candidate in sociology. "But they are no more likely than lower-ability whites to support open housing laws and are less likely to support school busing and affirmative action programs."

Wodtke presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. The National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, supported his research.

He analyzed data on the racial attitudes of more than 20,000 white respondents from the nationally representative General Social Survey. He examined how their cognitive ability, as measured by a widely used test of verbal intelligence, was linked with their attitudes about African-Americans, and about different policies designed to redress racial segregation and discrimination.

Near-death experiences may be triggered by surging brain activity

© VinnyPrime, Stock.xchng
A vision of a light at the end of a dark tunnel is sometimes reported by people who have near-death experiences, but studies suggest the sight may be the result of oxygen deprivation.
Near-death experiences could be caused by a surge of electrical firing in the dying brain, new research in animals suggests.

In the study, rats whose hearts were stopped showed a surge of brain waves associated with consciousness, according to a new study published today (Aug. 12) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers measured the animals' brain activity on electroencephalography (EEG) machines.

However, "whether the animals perceive that as a white light or tunnel of light, that's something we can't know," said study researcher Jimo Borjigin, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Other experts agreed that further study is needed to determine how the study might apply to near-death experiences (NDEs) in people.

There's no way to know what the rats were experiencing while their hearts were stopped, and other studies in dying humans and dogs have found no brain wave activity that was parallel to what the researchers found in the new study, said Dr. Sam Parnia, a resuscitation researcher at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the study.

Religious people are less intelligent than non-believers

© ZUMA / Rex Features
Famous atheist Richard Dawkins

Religious people are less intelligent than non-believers, according to a new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades. A team led by Miron Zuckerman of the University of Rochester found "a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity" in 53 out of 63 studies

Even in extreme old age, intelligent people are less likely to believe, the researchers found - and the reasons why people with high IQs shun religion may not be as simple as previously thought. Previous studies have tended to assume that intelligent people simply "know better", the researchers write - but the reasons may be more complex.

For instance, intelligent people are more likely to be married, and more likely to be successful in life - and this may mean they "need" religion less.

The studies used in Zuckerman's paper included a life-long analysis of the beliefs of a group of 1,500 gifted children - those with IQs over 135 - in a study which began in 1921 and continues today.

People have more empathy for battered dogs than human adult, but not child, victims

People have more empathy for battered puppies and full grown dogs than they do for some humans -- adults, but not children, finds new research to be presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering," said Jack Levin, the Irving and Betty Brudnick Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Northeastern University. "Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component. The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full grown dog victims suggests that adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids."

In their study, Levin and co-author Arnold Arluke, a sociology professor at Northeastern University, considered the opinions of 240 men and women, most of whom were white and between the ages of 18-25, at a large northeastern university. Participants randomly received one of four fictional news articles about the beating of a one-year-old child, an adult in his thirties, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. The stories were identical except for the victim's identify. After reading their story, respondents were asked to rate their feelings of empathy towards the victim.

Abused puppies get more sympathy than adult crime victims

© Shutterstock
Puppies may be better at garnering empathy than people are, in some cases, a new study finds.
People have more empathy for abused puppies and dogs than they do for adult humans who have been abused, a new study suggests.

However, empathy for abused children was about the same as that for puppies and dogs, the study found.

Researchers surveyed 240 college students and asked them to read one of four versions of a fictional news article about a brutal beating. The wording in articles was the same, except for the identity of the victim, which was either: an infant, an adult in his 30s, a puppy or a 6-year old dog. Participants then rated their level of empathy for the victim.

Participants had higher levels of empathy for the abused child, puppy and dog than they did for the abused adult, the study found.

The researchers had hypothesized that younger victims would receive more empathy, regardless of species. Instead, they found "Age makes a difference for empathy toward human victims, but not for dog victims," the researchers wrote in their study abstract, which will be presented this week at the American Sociological Association meeting in New York.

Why do we love psychopaths and sociopaths?

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. -- Henry David Thoreau
© Canucwhatic Blogspot

Let's face it. One of our biggest obstacles to success and/or "happiness" is that all consuming inner sense of what is right and wrong, that complex of ethical and moral principles called the conscience. Imagine what you could accomplish without that burdensome guilt-inducing awareness. Well, there are people who are not burdened and/or handicapped by this faculty of mind, and they very often rise to the top, attaining positions of great power. And who puts them there? We do. Why? Because when we hear the word psychopath, we immediately think of the Hollywood definition: the crazed violent, sadistic, human flesh-eating, serial killers like the fictitious Hannibal Lector, and/or the less fictitious Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Heidnick, amongst many others. However, the truth is that only a very very small percentage of psychopaths are this violent, and if they are, they are not only psychopaths but sociopaths as well. Yes, there is a difference.

One can be a sociopath without being a psychopath and vice versa, as well as being both at the same time. According to Dr. Robert Hare, leading expert on psychopathy, psychopaths--and sociopaths-- are not psychotic. They are not mentally, psychiatrically or legally insane...''mania sans de´lire''(''madness without delirium''). They wear the "mask of sanity." So on that note, they're the same.

Psychopaths, however, are people who, at their very core, lack the capacity to make an emotional connection with others, who lack the capacity to empathize, but who have not broken with reality. They are very aware of the consequences of their actions, they just don't care about the consequences of their actions on others, only about the consequences to themselves. Their emotional life is shallow and superficial. They are usually dominant individuals who use deceit, manipulation and charm to intimidate and control others. They have an enormous sense of entitlement, tend to be impulsive, irresponsible, and have an unusual need for excitement. They have no problem violating the legal, social and moral code, but that certainly doesn't mean that all psychopaths end up in jail, in fact, most sail through life without ever facing prison time. Why? Mostly because psychopaths, smart ones, anyway, rise to the top where they can influence or even make the rules.

How parents see themselves may affect their child's brain and stress level

Self-perceived social status predicts hippocampal function and stress hormones.

A mother's perceived social status predicts her child's brain development and stress indicators, finds a study at Boston Children's Hospital. While previous studies going back to the 1950s have linked objective socioeconomic factors -- such as parental income or education -- to child health, achievement and brain function, the new study is the first to link brain function to maternal self-perception.

In the study, children whose mothers saw themselves as having a low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, and less activation of their hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for long-term memory formation (required for learning) and reducing stress responses.

Findings were published online August 6th by the journal Developmental Science, and will be part of a special issue devoted to the effects of socioeconomic status on brain development.

"We know that there are big disparities among people in income and education," says Margaret Sheridan, PhD, of the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital, the study's first author. "Our results indicate that a mother's perception of her social status 'lives' biologically in her children."

Online 'Likes' can create sheep mentality

Online Comments
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Liking an online comment makes others much more likely to give it a thumbs up, too, calling into question just how solid those five-star ratings really are.
When someone "likes" an online comment, other people become much more likely to give the comment a thumbs up, too, suggesting that our opinions and decisions may be at the mercy of what others seem to think, at least when reviews are positive.

Negative sentiments don't have the same influence, a new study found. In fact, when people saw a thumbs down, they became more likely to correct it with a thumbs up, particularly when the topic concerned politics or other weighty subjects.

Besides offering a window into the intermingling subtleties of human nature and online behavior, the new findings show how herd mentality can have ripple effects on everything from what people buy to how they vote.

By showing how our opinions are vulnerable to the arbitrary votes of others, the study may help people make better decisions.

"I think it cautions the online user or consumer to be skeptical of ratings and to consider that a rating might be the result of some social process and is potentially fraudulent or manipulated, rather than putting so much weight on the idea that, 'Well, if the crowd says it's a good product, it must be a good product,'" said Sinan Aral, a managerial economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

"A popular product may have been rated highly today because it is a good product -- or because it was rated highly yesterday."

In today's digital world, people frequently turn to online ratings when making decisions about hotels, movies, news reports, even presidential candidates. And according to recent research, Aral said, two-thirds of online shoppers say they trust reviews that are posted on the web.

Study: Our brains can (unconsciously) save us from temptation. But is it really so?

© University of Pennsylvania
Dolores Albarracín, left, and Justin Hepler
Inhibitory self control - not picking up a cigarette, not having a second drink, not spending when we should be saving - can operate without our awareness or intention.

That was the finding by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They demonstrated through neuroscience research that inaction-related words in our environment can unconsciously influence our self-control. Although we may mindlessly eat cookies at a party, stopping ourselves from over-indulging may seem impossible without a deliberate, conscious effort. However, it turns out that overhearing someone - even in a completely unrelated conversation - say something as simple as "calm down" might trigger us to stop our cookie eating frenzy without realizing it.

The findings were reported in the journal Cognition by Justin Hepler, M.A., University of Illinois; and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and a Professor of Psychology at Penn.

Volunteers completed a study where they were given instructions to press a computer key when they saw the letter "X" on the computer screen, or not press a key when they saw the letter "Y." Their actions were affected by subliminal messages flashing rapidly on the screen. Action messages ("run," "go," "move," "hit," and "start") alternated with inaction messages ("still," "sit," "rest," "calm," and "stop") and nonsense words ("rnu," or "tsi"). The participants were equipped with electroencephalogram recording equipment to measure brain activity.

Comment: By the way, smoking restores self-control, improves motor abilities, attention and memory, so instead of pushing the anti-smoking propaganda, better work on consciously or unconsciously controlling the urge of ingesting the real poison, like gluten.