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Fri, 19 Jul 2019
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Study Finds The Mind is a Frequent, But Not Happy, Wanderer

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© Harvard University
Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth (right) and Daniel T. Gilbert (left) used a special "track your happiness" iPhone app to gather research. The results: We spend at least half our time thinking about something other than our immediate surroundings, and most of this daydreaming doesn't make us happy.
People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects' thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Killingsworth and Gilbert write. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn't going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain's default mode of operation.

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Sleep Makes Your Memories Stronger

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© Getty Images
As humans, we spend about a third of our lives asleep. So there must be a point to it, right? Scientists have found that sleep helps consolidate memories, fixing them in the brain so we can retrieve them later.

Now, new research is showing that sleep also seems to reorganize memories, picking out the emotional details and reconfiguring the memories to help you produce new and creative ideas, according to the authors of an article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Sleep is making memories stronger," says Jessica D. Payne of the University of Notre Dame, who cowrote the review with Elizabeth A. Kensinger of Boston College. "It also seems to be doing something which I think is so much more interesting, and that is reorganizing and restructuring memories."

Payne and Kensinger study what happens to memories during sleep, and they have found that a person tends to hang on to the most emotional part of a memory. For example, if someone is shown a scene with an emotional object, such as a wrecked car, in the foreground, they're more likely to remember the emotional object than, say, the palm trees in the background - particularly if they're tested after a night of sleep. They have also measured brain activity during sleep and found that regions of the brain involved with emotion and memory consolidation are active.

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Dance Moves Can Reveal Your Personality

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© Corbis
Scientists have claimed that the way a person gyrates in time to music can betray secrets of their character
The way you dance can reveal information about your personality, scientists have found.

It is where many couples first set eyes on one another - and now research suggests that the dancefloor is the perfect place to gauge a prospective partner's personality.

Scientists have claimed that the way a person gyrates in time to music can betray secrets of their character.

Using personality tests, the researchers assessed volunteeers into one of five "types".

They then observed how each members of each group danced to different kinds of music.

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Daydreaming and Unhappiness

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© khrawling/Flickr
People reported being happiest when engaged in what they were doing versus allowing their minds to wander.

Ah, daydreaming. Is there anything more pleasant than sitting back and letting your thoughts drift? Well, yes: not letting your thoughts drift, for one. Because according to a study published in the journal Science, people are least happy when their minds wander. [M. Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, "A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind"]

Humans, to a degree unmatched by other animals, are capable of thinking about things outside the here and now - something that happened yesterday, or something they hope will happen tomorrow. It's that sort of itinerant intellect that allows us to plan and to learn. But at what cost?

Psychologists at Harvard used an iPhone app to find out. At random times throughout the day, the program asked some 2,200 participants what they were doing, what they were thinking about and how they felt. Turns out that people spend nearly half their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing. And that whether and where their thoughts tend to stray is a better predictor of their feelings than what they're actually up to. The scientists conclude that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

People

Transgender Bender: Surgery to Woman, Then Man Again

David had all the things society equates with success -- a career as an IT consultant, two homes, cars paid for with cash , a wife and 12-year-old son he loved.



But he was hiding a secret.

"For all intents and purposes we were perfect, but many of us know from a young age that something is different, odd, we had been miscast in life," said Donna Rose, who used to be David.

"I wanted the life I had built, but I wanted me to be in it, rather than the person portrayed to the rest of the world," said Rose, now 51 and living as a transgender woman in Harrisburg, Pa.

But just before she was to have sex reassignment surgery in 1999, Rose panicked and returned to her life as a man.

For her, it was temporary, but others who are transgender find the challenge of switching genders too great. Often, they discover they have sacrificed careers and loved ones, and face a society that unfairly views them as freaks.

Just this week, British millionaire Charles Kane, who had lived as the glamorous interior designer Samantha Kane for 17 years, revealed he was marrying again as a man.

Born Sam Hashimi, he was a divorced father of two when he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his first sex change operation in 1987.

But he later said it was a "mistake," and five years ago he spent thousands more on three operations to restore his male genitals.

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The Biology Behind the Milk of Human Kindness

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© Serge Bloch

As the festival of mandatory gratitude looms into view, allow me to offer a few suggestions on what, exactly, you should be thankful for.

Be thankful that, on at least one occasion, your mother did not fend off your father with a pair of nunchucks, but instead allowed enough contact to facilitate your happy conception. Be thankful that when you go to buy a pale, poultrylike entity, the grocery clerk will accept your credit card in good faith and even return it with a heroic garble of your last name. Be grateful for the empathetic employee working the United Airlines ticket counter the day after Thanksgiving, who understands why you must leave town today, this very minute, lest someone pull out the family nunchucks.

Above all, be thankful for your brain's supply of oxytocin, the small, celebrated peptide hormone that, by the looks of it, helps lubricate our every prosocial exchange, the thousands of acts of kindness, kind-of kindness and not-as-nakedly-venal-as-I-could-have-been kindness that make human society possible. Scientists have long known that the hormone plays essential physiological roles during birth and lactation, and animal studies have shown that oxytocin can influence behavior too, prompting voles to cuddle up with their mates, for example, or to clean and comfort their pups. Now a raft of new research in humans suggests that oxytocin underlies the twin emotional pillars of civilized life, our capacity to feel empathy and trust.

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The Compassionate Instinct

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© NA
Humans are selfish. It's so easy to say. The same goes for so many assertions that follow. Greed is good. Altruism is an illusion. Cooperation is for suckers. Competition is natural, war inevitable. The bad in human nature is stronger than the good.

These kinds of claims reflect age-old assumptions about emotion. For millennia, we have regarded the emotions as the fount of irrationality, baseness, and sin. The idea of the seven deadly sins takes our destructive passions for granted. Plato compared the human soul to a chariot: the intellect is the driver and the emotions are the horses. Life is a continual struggle to keep the emotions under control.

Even compassion, the concern we feel for another being's welfare, has been treated with downright derision. Kant saw it as a weak and misguided sentiment: "Such benevolence is called soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings," he said of compassion. Many question whether true compassion exists at all - or whether it is inherently motivated by self-interest.

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Fearless children may lack empathy

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© NA

Preschool-aged children who demonstrate fearless behavior also reveal less empathy and more aggression towards their peers. This has been shown in a new study that was carried out at the University of Haifa's Faculty of Education. "The results of this study show that fearless behavior in children can be identified and is related to neurological and genetic predisposition. This type of behavior has less correlation - at least in infancy - with standards of educational processes or parenting practice," says Dr. Inbal Kivenson-Baron, who carried out the study.

Under the supervision of Prof. Ofra Mayseless, the study set out to examine whether fearless behavior in children aged 3-4 is related to specific physiological and social-emotional characteristics and whether there is a relation to aspects of parenting, such as socioeconomic status, order of birth, parental well-being, child-rearing practices, and the like.

The study observed 80 children aged 3-4, along with their parents and preschool teachers. It reviewed reports given by parents and teachers, and made observations of the children at their preschool locations, at home and in the lab. The study monitored children's tendency to fearlessness and their social-emotional characteristics at the beginning and end of one year, so as to determine the stability of this tendency.

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Researchers find psychopaths know right from wrong but do not act on that knowledge

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© Sott.net
A study by University of New Mexico psychologists has found that psychopaths can differentiate between right and wrong, but they fail to weigh the difference when making decisions. The findings were recently published in Psychological Science, a highly regarded national research journal in psychology.

To reach the conclusion, UNM researchers Elsa Ermer and Kent Kiehl surveyed 67 prison inmates. Although 1 percent of the population is classified as psychopathic, 20 percent of prison inmates fit the characterization.

Ermer and Kiehl tested logical reasoning to find that psychopaths struggle to understand the social contracts and personal risks that influence decisions on how to behave.

Average people who were tested understood the expected behavior when someone said, "If you borrow my car, then you have to refuel it." Psychopathic subjects, however, failed to connect that borrowing the car required action or compensation in response.

Psychopaths also demonstrated an inability to connect potential negative outcomes with risky situations, such as "If you work with tuberculosis patients, then you must wear a surgical mask."

People

Two Active Ministers Say They No Longer Believe in God

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"I am an atheist," says "Jack," a Southern Baptist with more than 20 years in ministry.

"I live out my life as if there is no God," says "Adam," who is part of the pastoral staff of a small evangelical church in the Bible Belt.

The two, who asked that their real identities be protected, are pastors who have lost their faith. And these two men, who have built their careers and lives around faith, say they now feel trapped, living a lie.

"I spent the majority of my life believing and pursuing this religious faith, Christianity," Jack said. "And to get to this point in my life, I just don't feel like I believe anymore."

The more I read the Bible, the more questions I had," Jack said. "The more things didn't make sense to me -- what it said -- and the more things didn't add up.