Science of the SpiritS


Swearing can help relieve pain, study claims

© ALAMYResearch proves that swearing triggers not only an emotional response, but a physical one too

Scientists from Keele University found that letting forth a volley of foul language can have a powerful painkilling effect, especially for people who do not normally use expletives.

To test the theory, student volunteers placed their hands in a bucket of ice cold water while swearing repeatedly.

They then repeated the exercise but, instead of swearing, used a harmless phrase instead.

Researchers found that the students were able to keep their hands submerged in the icy water for longer when repeating the swear word - establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

They also found that the pain-numbing effect was four times more likely to work in the volunteers who did not normally use bad language.

The team believes the pain-lessening effect occurs because swearing triggers the ''fight or flight'' response.

The accelerated heart rates of the students repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight or flight response of ''downplaying feebleness in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo''.

Eye 1

Missing the gorilla: Why we don't see what's right in front of our eyes

© Janelle Seegmiller, U of Utah, and Daniel Simons, U of IllinoisUniversity of Utah psychologist Jason Watson displays a famous video showing people passing a basketball while a person in a gorilla suit walks across the screen. When unsuspecting viewers were asked to count how many times the basketball is passed, more than 40 percent failed to see the person in the gorilla suit. Watson and his colleagues conducted new research expanding on earlier work by psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons -- authors of the 2010 book "The Invisible Gorilla" -- and showing that a better "working memory capacity" explains why 58 percent of people to see the gorilla even if they are focusing on counting basketball passes.
University of Utah psychologists have learned why many people experience "inattention blindness" - the phenomenon that leaves drivers on cell phones prone to traffic accidents and makes a gorilla invisible to viewers of a famous video.

The answer: People who fail to see something right in front of them while they are focusing on something else have lower "working memory capacity" - a measure of "attentional control," or the ability to focus attention when and where needed, and on more than one thing at a time.

"Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you'll see something you're not expecting, in this case, a person in a gorilla suit walking across the computer screen," says the study's first author, Janelle Seegmiller, a psychology doctoral student.

The study - explaining why some people are susceptible to inattention blindness and others are not - will be published in the May issue of The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.


Addressing negative thoughts most effective in fighting loneliness

© Unknown
Better loneliness interventions sought to reduce its harmful effects on health.

Changing how a person perceives and thinks about others was the most effective intervention for loneliness, a sweeping analysis of previous research has determined. The findings may help physicians and psychologists develop better treatments for loneliness, a known risk factor for heart disease and other health problems.

Recently, researchers have characterized the negative influence of loneliness upon blood pressure, sleep quality, dementia, and other health measures. Those effects suggest that loneliness is a health risk factor, similar to obesity or smoking, which can be targeted to improve patients' health in several dimensions.

"People are becoming more isolated, and this health problem is likely to grow," said John Cacioppo, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago. "If we know that loneliness is involved in health problems, the next question is what we can do to mitigate it."

To determine the most effective method for reducing loneliness, Cacioppo and a team of researchers from the University of Chicago examined the long history of research on the topic. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review, their quantitative review found that the best interventions targeted social cognition rather than social skills or opportunities for social interaction.

The team's review, called a meta-analysis, analyzed the methods and results from dozens of papers that tested loneliness interventions. Strategies fell into four categories: improving social skills, increasing social support, creating opportunities for social interaction, and addressing social cognition.


How Meditation Might Ward Off the Effects of Ageing

© Blaine Harrington III/CorbisThe Shamatha project took place at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, USA.
A study at a US Buddhist retreat suggests eastern relaxation techniques can protect our chromosomes from degenerating.

High in the mountains of northern Colorado, a 100-foot tall tower reaches up through the pinetops. Brightly coloured and strung with garlands, its ornate gold leaf glints in the sun. With a shape that symbolises a giant seated Buddha, this lofty stupa is intended to inspire those on the path to enlightenment.

Visitors here to the Shambhala Mountain Centre meditate in silence for up to 10 hours every day, emulating the lifestyle that monks have chosen for centuries in mountain refuges from India to Japan. But is it doing them any good? For two three-month retreats held in 2007, this haven for the eastern spiritual tradition opened its doors to western science. As attendees pondered the "four immeasurables" of love, compassion, joy and equanimity, a laboratory squeezed into the basement bristled with scientific equipment from brain and heart monitors to video cameras and centrifuges. The aim: to find out exactly what happens to people who meditate.


Study links willingness to cheat, viewpoint on God

The study found no difference in the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But participants who saw God as compassionate were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.

God believer cheating
© Karen Tapia-Andersen, Los Angeles Times"People with benevolent, loving images of God tend to be moral relativists," says one sociologist.

A new study on the link between one's view of God and willingness to cheat on a test is the latest example of social scientists wading into the highly charged field of religion and morality.

The study, titled "Mean Gods Make Good People: Different Views of God Predict Cheating Behavior" was peer reviewed and published earlier this month in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion.

In line with many previous studies, it found no difference between the ethical behavior of believers and nonbelievers. But those who believed in a loving, compassionate God were more likely to cheat than those who believed in an angry, punitive God.


Aimless, Mechanical, and Under the Power of External Influences: The Rewards of Doing "Something"

© Unknown
People don't really care what they're doing - just as long as they are doing something. That's one of the findings summarized in a new review article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

When psychologists think about why people do what they do, they tend to look for specific goals, attitudes, and motivations. But they may be missing something more general - people like to be doing something. These broader goals, to be active or inactive, may have a big impact on how they spend their time.

Comment: "People don't really care what they're doing - just as long as they are doing something"...No wonder our world is in such a dire state.

The main obstacle to progress, according to Gurdjieff, was the mechanical nature of contemporary man, and his inability to carry anything through. From In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P. D. Ouspensky:
Everything happens. All that befalls a man, all that is done by him, all that comes from him - all this happens...

"Man is a machine. All his deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the results of external influences, external impressions. Out of himself a man cannot produce a single thought, a single action. Everything he says, does, thinks, feels - all this happens. Man cannot discover anything, invent anything. It all happens...

Everything happens - popular movements, wars, revolutions, changes of government, all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as everything happens in the life of individual man. Man is born, lives, dies, builds houses, writes books, not as he wants to, but as it happens. Everything happens. Man does not love, hate, desire - all this happens...
There is another kind of mechanization which is much more dangerous: being a machine oneself. Have you ever thought about the fact that all peoples themselves are machines?"

"Yes," I said, "from the strictly scientific point of view all people are machines governed by external influences. But the question is, can the scientific point of view be wholly accepted?"

"Scientific or not scientific is all the same to me," said G. "I want you to understand what I am saying. Look, all those people you see," he pointed along the street, "are simply machines - nothing more."

"I think I understand what you mean," I said. "And I have often thought how little there is in the world that can stand against this form of mechanization and choose its own path."

"This is just where you make your greatest mistake," said G. "You think there is something that chooses its own path, something that can stand against mechanization; you think that not everything is equally mechanical."

"Why, of course not!" I said. "Art, poetry, thought, are phenomena of quite a different order."

"Of exactly the same order," said G. "These activities are just as mechanical as everything else. Men are machines and nothing but mechanical actions can be expected of machines."

"Very well," I said. "But are there no people who are not machines?"

"It may be that there are," said G., "only not those people you see. And you do not know them. That is what I want you to understand."...

"People are so unlike one another," I said. "I do not think it would be possible to bring them all under the same heading. There are savages, there are mechanized people, there are intellectual people, there are geniuses."

"Quite right," said G., "people are very unlike one another, but the real difference between people you do not know and cannot see. The difference of which you speak simply does not exist. This must be understood. All the people you see, all the people you know, all the people you may get to know, are machines, actual machines working solely under the power of external influences, as you yourself said. Machines they are born and machines they die. How do savages and intellectuals come into this? Even now, at this very moment, while we are talking, several millions of machines are trying to annihilate one another. What is the difference between them? Where are the savages and where are the intellectuals? They are all alike . . .

"But there is a possibility of ceasing to be a machine."

Better Earth

Flashback Rogue Waves: The Global Food Crisis, Starvation, Spirulina and the Safe Places of those who Face Suffering

Dr Mark Sircus
Most of us who have seen the Poseidon Adventure movie have seen what a rogue wave can do. Most seamen know of this rare hazard of the deep sea. What are unknown are simultaneous rouge waves - - not much can be done against one, image several hitting your ship of life at the same time. Events are beginning to move faster - - the waves are building, in fact they are towering waves that the blind do not see because they don't want to.

In countries where people live on less than $1 a day, a day's serving of rice or beans now costs more than the average daily wage.

Today we can no longer separate and divide one subject area from another. Concurrent events are destroying our normal tendency to put subject areas into nice orderly compartments -- giving more support to quantum mechanics and other mystical areas of thought, which insist that everything is connected. Charles Perrow of Yale University says "Interconnectedness in the global production system has now reached the point where a breakdown anywhere increasingly means a breakdown everywhere". This is especially true of the world's financial systems, where the coupling is very tight. "Now we have a debt crisis with the biggest player, the U.S. The consequences could be enormous."

We are going to get a crash course in these dynamics as we not only watch but participate in the food crisis, which is running smack into the oil, financial, ecological, climate and water crises. "The most worrisome thing about the vulnerability of the U.S. economy circa 2008," Kevin Phillips writes, "is the extent of official understatement and misstatement -- the preference for minimizing how many problems there are and how interconnected they are."

The heart feels itself to be part of the whole.


Antidepressants or Meditation for Depression Relapse?

© Unknown
Mindfulness meditation found to be as effective as antidepressant medication in prevention of depression relapse.

A new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy - using meditation - provides equivalent protection against depressive relapse as traditional antidepressant medication.

The study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry compared the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) by studying people who were initially treated with an antidepressant and then, either stopped taking the medication in order to receive MBCT, or continued taking medication for 18 months.

Comment: To discover the many benefits of meditation for yourself, visit the Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation programme HERE.


Meditation Better Than Morphine?

Meditation illustration
New research illustrates how meditation reduces pain.

Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the April 6 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation," said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Comment: To discover the many benefits of meditation for yourself, visit the Éiriú Eolas breathing and meditation programme HERE.

Heart - Black

Best of the Web: The Darkest Secret

Mairilyn Van derbur
© People Magazine
Former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur Bravely Shares Her Difficult Past. Behind the Facade of a 'Perfect' Family, Her Father Committed An Unspeakable Crime: Incest.

"My father was a handsome, intelligent man," recalls Marilyn Van Derbur. "He served as president of the Denver Area Boy Scout Council and helped establish Denver's Cleo Wallace Village for Handicapped Children. But there was another - secret - side to him. From the time I was 5 until I was 18 and moved away to college, my father sexually violated me."

Even in an age when public confessions are commonplace, Marilyn Van Derbur's has the power to shock. The crime is repulsive almost beyond words; the people involved, as in a Greek tragedy, are larger than life. Francis S. Van Derbur, the father, was a millionaire socialite and a pillar of the Denver community; Marilyn, the youngest of his four daughters, was a golden-haired beauty, a straight-A student and an AAU swimming champ. In 1957, when she was 20, her predecessor, Marian Ann McKnight, would crown her Miss America in Atlantic City.

"We had all the trappings of a perfect family, " Marilyn says now. "Wealth, social status, a handsome father and lovely mother." So perfect was the illusion, in fact, that Marilyn completely repressed any knowledge of sexual violation by her father until she was 24, when D.D. Harvey, former youth minister at her Presbyterian church in Denver, broke down her guard. She shared her painful secret with her husband-to-be, attorney Larry Atler, now 56, and with her eldest sister, Gwen, 59, who revealed that she too had been victimized. (Sisters Nancy, 55, and Valerie, 57, have not commented.) Still, Marilyn's experience continued to haunt her, causing her emotionally rooted bouts of lethargy, physical paralysis and finally an anxiety so crushing that in 1984 her career as a motivational speaker came to a complete halt.

Since then, with the help of a number of therapists, she has found the courage to talk with her mother, Gwendolyn, about the incest and, more recently, with the world. On May 8, after two years of working with Denver's Kempe National Center for Prevention and Treatment for Child Abuse and Neglect, Marilyn told an audience of 35 the grimly inspiring story of what she calls "the greatest accomplishment of my life - surviving incest." Her address was frequently interrupted by applause. At her luxurious Denver ranch-style house, she talked to correspondent Vickie Bane about her struggle to survive.

Comment: Yet Gwendolyn Van Derbur allowed her daughters' lives to be ruined to keep her illusions of her "Adonis" and her marriage intact. That for years and years her husband was sexually abusing her daughters under the same roof and her being completely unaware of it says a lot about her wish to not see reality and the deep levels of denial into which she threw herself.