Science of the Spirit


'Evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean'

© G.L. Kohuth
"We found evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean," said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.
Two Michigan State University evolutionary biologists offer new evidence that evolution doesn't favor the selfish, disproving a theory popularized in 2012.

"We found evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean," said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. "For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn't evolutionarily sustainable."

The paper appears in the current issue of Nature Communications and focuses on game theory, which is used in biology, economics, political science and other disciplines. Much of the last 30 years of research has focused on how cooperation came to be, since it's found in many forms of life, from single-cell organisms to people.

In 2012, a scientific paper unveiled a newly discovered strategy - called zero-determinant - that gave selfish players a guaranteed way to beat cooperative players.

"The paper caused quite a stir," said Adami, who co-authored the paper with Arend Hintze, molecular and microbiology research associate. "The main result appeared to be completely new, despite 30 years of intense research in this area."
Arrow Up

How to protect yourself from a 'successful' psychopath

© Supplied
Christopher Walken stars in Seven Psychopaths.
Psychopaths are everywhere. It's a recognised medical statistic that one per cent of the general population is psychopathic.

And they're trendy too, taking centre stage in Jon Ronson's investigative bestseller The Psychopath Test, and a murderous turn in horror movies like American Psycho and Arbitrage.

It's no wonder we're morbidly fascinated with them. The mental disorder is unnerving and enigmatic. If the psychopathic nature is to trick us, we want to uncover them. Just talking about the condition is enough to lead you to think: 'Am I a psychopath...?'

However if you're thinking that, chances are you're not a psychopath, who are defined by their lack of empathy, remorse and chronic irritability in the globally recognised PCL-R test.

Intent to harm: Willful acts seem more damaging

How harmful we perceive an act to be depends on whether we see the act as intentional, reveals new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The new research shows that people significantly overestimate the monetary cost of intentional harm, even when they are given a financial incentive to be accurate.

"The law already recognizes intentional harm as more wrong than unintentional harm," explain researchers Daniel Ames and Susan Fiske of Princeton University. "But it assumes that people can assess compensatory damages -- what it would cost to make a person 'whole' again -- independently of punitive damages."

According to Ames and Fiske, the new research suggests that this separation may not be psychologically plausible:

"These studies suggest that people might not only penalize intentional harm more, but actually perceive it as intrinsically more damaging."

In their first experiment, Ames and Fiske asked participants to read a vignette about a profit-sharing company in which the CEO made a poor financial investment and cost his employees part of their paycheck.

Researchers found that self-sharing with friends releases chemicals that control the reward and pleasure centers

talking about oneself

Neurologists from Harvard University have discovered people like talking about themselves because it makes them feel good. Changes in the brain when someone discusses personal matters are similar to changes that occur during sex and discussing personal information with friends increases this sensation
According to recent figures people spend up to 40 per cent of their time talking about themselves.

Researchers from Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab wanted to find out why people like the sound of their own voice so much and if it was linked to the parts of their brain associated with pleasure and reward.

After conducting tests using brain scanning technology they found that when people talk about themselves it triggers the same chemical reaction they experience during sex and this motivates them to share personal information more regularly.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to carry out the tests.

This imaging tool can identify changes in the level of blood flow to certain parts of the brain when presented with certain stimuli.

Night owls more likely to have Dark Triad of personality traits

Dark Triad
© Alamy
Research suggests people who like staying up late tend to have more evil personality traits.
Psychologists have found that people who are often described as "night owls" display more signs of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathic tendencies than those who are "morning larks".

The scientists suggest these reason for these traits, known as the Dark Triad, being more prevalent in those who do better in the night may be linked to our evolutionary past.

They claim that the hours of darkness may have helped to conceal those who adopted a "cheaters strategy" while living in groups.

Some social animals will use the cover of darkness to steal females away from more dominant males. This behaviour was also recently spotted in rhinos in Africa.

Dr Peter Jonason, a psychologist at the University of Western Sydney, said: "It could be adaptively effective for anyone pursuing a fast life strategy like that embodied in the Dark Triad to occupy and exploit a lowlight environment where others are sleeping and have diminished cognitive functioning.

"Such features of the night may facilitate the casual sex, mate-poaching, and risk-taking the Dark Triad traits are linked to.

"In short, those high on the Dark Triad traits, like many other predators such as lions, African hunting dogs and scorpions, are creatures of the night."

Dr Jonason and his colleagues, whose research is published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, surveyed 263 students, asking them to complete a series of standard personality tests designed to test their score for the Dark Triad traits.
Magic Wand

Finger points to good research skills

Male scientists are good at research because they have the same hormone levels as women, according to new study involving the measurement of relative finger lengths.

Research into male scientists at Bath University has revealed that they have as much of the female hormone oestrogen as the male hormone testosterone, a combination more usual in women.

This, say the researchers, is why they are so clever.

Previous research has revealed that this unusual combination of hormones leads to better development of the right side of the brain which is where spatial and analytical skills are governed.

The study, which has been submitted to the British Journal of Psychology, also found that women social scientists tended to have higher levels of testosterone, making their brains closer to those of males in general.
Post-It Note

Scientists discover brain's 'misery molecule' which affects stress, anxiety and depression

misery molecule

Scientists have found the brain's 'misery molecule' believed to be responsible for all of our feelings of stress and anxiety
Scientists have found the brain's 'misery molecule' believed to be responsible for all of our feelings of stress and anxiety.

Researchers believe that the protein - named CRF1 - could also be linked to depression.

A team from Heptares Therapeutics, a medical company based in Hertfordshire, used one of the world's most powerful x-ray machines to study the brain's pituitary gland.

It has long been known that the gland controls stress, depression and anxiety by releasing stress chemicals, the Sunday Times reports.

Now, scientists have discovered the response is triggered by CRF1 - which is found in the outer membranes of pituitary cells.

Fiona Marshall, chief scientific officer at Heptares, told the paper: 'Stress related diseases such as depression and anxiety affect a quarter of adults each year, but what many people don't realise is that these conditions are controlled by proteins in the brain, one of which is CRF1.'

She added that now they have worked out the structure of it and how it works it could open up potential to design drugs to control it.

Brain picks out salient sounds from background noise by tracking frequency and time

New research reveals how our brains are able to pick out important sounds from the noisy world around us. The findings, published online today in the journal eLife, could lead to new diagnostic tests for hearing disorders.

Our ears can effortlessly pick out the sounds we need to hear from a noisy environment - hearing our mobile phone ringtone in the middle of the Notting Hill Carnival, for example - but how our brains process this information (the so-called 'cocktail party problem') has been a longstanding research question in hearing science.

Researchers have previously investigated this using simple sounds such as two tones of different pitches, but now researchers at UCL and Newcastle University have used complicated sounds that are more representative of those we hear in real life. The team used 'machine-like beeps' that overlap in both frequency and time to recreate a busy sound environment and obtain new insights into how the brain solves this problem.

In the study, groups of volunteers were asked to identify target sounds from within this noisy background in a series of experiments.
People 2

Casual sex correlated with anxiety, depression

University students, who engage in casual sex - having intercourse with someone whom you have known for less than a week -suffer from higher levels of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression, researchers have claimed.

3,900 straight students in the age group of 18 and 25 from 30 different US colleges were questioned about their sex lives and mental well-being.

The researchers found that people who recently engaged in casual sex seemed to have low levels of self-esteem, happiness and life-satisfaction than others who didn't hook-up with a relative stranger in last 1 month, the New York Daily News reported.
People 2

Origins and conceptual models of compassion