Science of the Spirit


Intuitions of our immortality: Visions of life before conception

New research suggests children have a strong sense they existed before they were conceived.

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Very early on, it seems we develop a feeling that we existed before our bodies came into being.
We've all ruminated about the possibility of life after death. But what about the notion of life before birth - or even conception?

While Christian theology denies such a thing is possible, the concept that life precedes physical fertilization is a given for people who believe in reincarnation. But is such an idea learned? Or is it based on an innate feeling about our own immortality?

Newly published research that analyzes answers given by two groups of children - one urban, one rural - suggests the latter. It finds youngsters intuitively believe that their own existence, at least in the form of feelings and wants, pre-dated their conception.

"Even kids who had biological knowledge about reproduction still seemed to think that they had existed in some sort of eternal form," lead author Natalie Emmons, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Boston University, told the institution's news service. "And that form really seemed to be about emotions and desires."


Oxytocin forms social bonds but also preserves trauma

© touchedbyred
Oxytocin, also known as the "love molecule," is an appropriately many splendored thing. The naturally occurring brain chemical helps form sexual arousal, bonds between parents and children and even encourages generosity. On the other hand, oxytocin also reinforces social bonds at the expense of strangers - research indicates that oxytocin encourages ethnocentric favoritism.

A new study published in today's Nature Neuroscience states that oxytocin, so crucial to strengthening social bonds, can also strengthen traumatic memories and raise future fear and social anxiety. Confirming the suspicion of notebook-scribbling bedroom poets everywhere, loving and being hurt, in terms of brain chemistry, are closely related.

The researchers at Northwestern University found that oxytocin activates part of the brain to intensify the memory in stressful situations, a significant finding, as oxytocin is being tested as a possible anti-anxiety medication.

"Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research," said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student at Northwestern and the study's lead author. "We showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system."


Top 5 ways to spot a liar

Abby Martin speaks with BTS producer Manuel Rapalo about the top five characteristics of a liar, including body language and verbal signals, using past presidents as prime examples.


The light and dark side of the love hormone

When it comes to love and intimate relationships, one neurohormone gets more press than anything else. Its name is oxytocin, and it often gets called the "love hormone" (N.B. sometimes it acts like a hormone and sometimes it acts like a neurotransmitter, which is why I call it a neurohormone). Your brain/body releases oxytocin to strengthen relationships. Oxytocin gets released during light caresses, sex, when someone shows they trust you, and sometimes even simply with talking. When released, oxytocin increases feelings of attachment for another person, as well as feelings of trust. It also decreases feelings of stress, fear and pain. Sounds pretty good to me. But unfortunately it's not all rainbow sprinkles and unicorns for everyone. Turns out that if you didn't have a good relationship with your parents then it's harder to harness the positive effects of oxytocin.

One recent study looked at women and their response to hearing a baby cry (I assume the researchers had a recording of a baby crying and didn't actually make a baby cry each time they ran the experiment). These women were also given puffs of oxytocin while being asked to intermittently squeeze a bar or relax their grip (Bakermans-Kranenburg et al 2012). It turns out their response to oxytocin differed by their relationship with their parents. Women who had not been disciplined harshly as children relaxed their grip when they heard the baby cry, presumably as preparation to comfort the baby in a gentle way. However, women who had been disciplined harshly as children did not relax their grip. This demonstrates that your experience with your parents shapes your oxytocin system. If the relationship contained harsh discipline then future oxytocin does not automatically create conditions for warm gentle interactions.


Projection Bias: Why your future self is an emotional mystery

© Unknown
We can have considerable difficulty predicting our future requirements because our current emotional states override them
Going to the supermarket when I'm really hungry, and without a shopping list, is a recipe for disaster. It will take an act of iron will to avoid returning without some kind of junk food. Later, after eating, I'll wonder how I could have bought junk food but forgotten healthy staples like rice and pasta.

Comment: Actually, rice and pasta may also be 'junk' food... For more information on going the low carb, ketogenic route see here.

Why should this be? After all, I know very well what sort of food I should buy; I've been hungry in the supermarket before and bought junk food and regretted it later. The reason is that in the moment, when I'm hungry at the supermarket, I'm out of touch with my future emotional self - something that psychologists have confirmed experimentally.

Empathy failure

Research has shown that we can have considerable difficulty predicting our future requirements because our current emotional states override them. This is called the projection bias and it occurs despite the fact that we have plenty of experience of the problem and its undesirable consequences.


Neuroscience research shows the human brain is wired to connect with others

A recent study from University of Virginia researchers supports a finding that's been gaining science-fueled momentum in recent years: the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that it experiences what they experience as if it's happening to us.

This would seem the neural basis for empathy - the ability to feel what others feel - but it goes even deeper than that. Results from the latest study suggest that our brains don't differentiate between what happens to someone emotionally close to us and ourselves, and also that we seem neurally incapable of generating anything close to that level of empathy for strangers.

To find this out, researchers had to get a bit medieval. They had participants undergo fMRI brain scans while threatening to give them electrical shocks, or to give shocks to a stranger or a friend. Results showed that regions of the brain responsible for threat response - the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus - became active under threat of shock to the self; that much was expected. When researchers threatened to shock a stranger, those same brain regions showed virtually no activity. But when they threatened to shock a friend, the brain regions showed activity nearly identical to that displayed when the participant was threatened.


Five reasons to boost the power of your brain and body with breathing

The advice to "just breathe" when you're stressed may be a cliché of Godzilla-sized proportions, but that doesn't make it untrue. The substance behind the saying is research-tested - and not only to manage stress.

Breathing is an unusual bodily function in that it is both involuntary and voluntary. Other major functions - take digestion and blood flow, for example - occur without conscious influence, and for the most part we couldn't influence them if we tried. They are involuntarily managed in the vast processing system of the unconscious mind.

Breathing is also managed in the unconscious, but at any moment we can grab the controls and consciously change how we breathe. We can make our breathing shallow or deep, fast or slow, or we can choose to stop breathing altogether (until we pass out and the unconscious takes over again).

Comment: Stimulation of the vagus nerve through controlled breathing can bring amazing health benefits. Learn breathing techniques that optimize vagal stimulation withÉiriú Eolas, a stress control, healing and rejuvenation program.

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Lies: Why they are so hard to detect and a method

© Juliana Coutinho
If only detecting lies was as easy as spotting a rapidly lengthening nose.
I've read and heard all kinds of rubbish about how to detect lies. Apparently you should look for sweating, which way people's eyes move, whether they make too much eye contact or too little...and so on.

Ironically advice to look for individual 'tells', like a poker player is supposed to, is a mug's game.

Certainly under laboratory conditions people are very poor at detecting when other people are lying. Across 206 studies people's hit rates for detecting lies was 54%, which seeing as you'd get 50% right by pure chance is not very impressive (Bond & DePaulo, 2006).

So, why is it so difficult to tell when people are lying? That's what Hartwig & Bond (2011) examine in a meta-analysis of dozens of studies. They looked at all kinds of different cues to lying like fidgeting, postural shifts, head movements, gaze aversion and speech rate.


People slow to react are more likely to die prematurely, study finds

© Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Researchers measured the range of reaction times across a group
Whether you're naked and hungry on the savannah, driving in traffic or at the controls of your favorite video game, being slow to react can get you eaten, injured or splattered across the screen. While we intuitively know this, a new study offers dramatic evidence of how much speed of response still matters: In men and women from ages 20 to 59, slower than average reaction time turned out to be a pretty good predictor of premature death.

The new research, published this week in the journal PLoS One, was large, simple and highly revealing. Between 1988 and 1994, researchers gave 5,134 Americans adults under 60 a very straightforward test of reaction time: The participants, all part of a large federal study of American nutrition and health, were seated at a computer and told to push a button immediately upon seeing a 0 on the screen in front of them. There was no practice period; a participant's average over 50 trials was computed, and he or she had just a few seconds between those 50 trials.

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The benefits of 'positive dissociation' and sharing: Divorce rate cut in half for couples who discussed relationship movies

A new study finds that watching and discussing movies about relationships is as effective in lowering divorce rates as other, more intensive early marriage counseling programs.

En español: La tasa de divorcio se reduce a la mitad entre recién casados que comentaron cinco películas sobre relaciones de pareja

Discussing five movies about relationships over a month could cut the three-year divorce rate for newlyweds in half, researchers report. The study, involving 174 couples, is the first long-term investigation to compare different types of early marriage intervention programs.

The findings show that an inexpensive, fun, and relatively simple movie-and-talk approach can be just as effective as other more intensive therapist-led methods - reducing the divorce or separation rate from 24 to 11 percent after three years.

Comment: Read the following forum thread to learn more about positive dissociation and its benefits.