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Mon, 06 Dec 2021
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Musicians are Probably Smarter than the Rest of Us

© Caravaggio
The Musicians
Want to keep your mind healthy and sharp throughout your life? Pick up an instrument. A new study found that musicians might have brains that function better than their peers well into old age. Bet you wish you stuck with those piano lessons after all.

Researchers tested the mental abilities of senior citizens and discovered that musicians performed better at a number of tests. In particular, musicians excelled at visual memory tasks. While musicians had similar verbal capabilities to non-musicians, the musicians' ability to memorize new words was markedly better, too. Perhaps most importantly, the musicians' IQ scores were higher overall than those who spent their lives listening to music rather than performing it.

The experience of musicians also played a role in how sharp their minds were. The younger the musicians began to play their instruments, the better their minds performed at the mental tasks. Additionally, the total number of years musicians played instruments throughout their life corresponded with how strong their brains remained years later.

The study also found that musicians who took the time to exercise between symphonies had even higher-functioning brain capabilities. This finding supports another recent study that reported people who walk regularly maintain healthier brains. With that in mind, perhaps joining a marching band now will make you the smartest person at the retirement home in the future.


Memories May Skew Visual Perception

© The Jordan Rules
Taking a trip down memory lane while you are driving could land you in a roadside ditch, new research indicates. Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that our visual perception can be contaminated by memories of what we have recently seen, impairing our ability to properly understand and act on what we are currently seeing.

"This study shows that holding the memory of a visual event in our mind for a short period of time can 'contaminate' visual perception during the time that we're remembering," Randolph Blake, study co-author and Centennial Professor of Psychology, said.

"Our study represents the first conclusive evidence for such contamination, and the results strongly suggest that remembering and perceiving engage at least some of the same brain areas."

The study, led by research associate Min-Suk Kang, was recently published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.


Rock-Paper-Scissors Players Are Natural Copycats

© Rock Paper Scissors Consulting
Players of the game rock paper scissors subconsciously copy each other's hand shapes, significantly increasing the chance of the game ending in a draw, according to new research.

A study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that even when players lose out by drawing a game, they can't help themselves from copying the hand gestures of their opponent.

In an experiment researchers recruited 45 participants to play rock-paper-scissors in one of two conditions. In the first condition, both players were blindfolded. In the second, one player was blindfolded and the other was not. Players who won the most games within a 60 game match received a financial bonus, so although players may have preferred to draw rather than lose, the best outcome could only happen through avoiding draws.

In the blind-blind condition the number of games ending in a draw was exactly as chance predicts, i.e. a third. However, in the blind-sighted matches the number of games ending in draws was significantly higher than a third, suggesting that the sighted player was copying the gestures of the blindfolded one - even when it was not in their interests to do so.


Bilingualism Seems to Boost Tots' Minds

© Patricia Fioriello
When young children learn a second language, it strengthens their ability to pay attention to the right stuff, reports a new Cornell study.

"Our study showed that bilingualism in young children strengthens what is known as executive attention, which helps orient individuals in the sea of information coming in," said Sujin Yang, Ph.D. '07, lead author and now a professor at Tyndale University College in Canada. "It helps them know what to pay attention to, what to ignore and what action to take."

The study, co-authored by Barbara Lust, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, and Hwajin Yang of Singapore Management University, is published in the July issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

"We were able to begin to separate out the effects of bilingualism from the effects of culture, which other studies had not done," noted Lust. "Culture strongly influences parenting and child development. Emphasis on behavioral control and inhibition at an early age -- a feature more often found in East Asian cultures - has been linked to improved attention in children. Western cultures, by contrast, tend to emphasize individuality and self expression."


Our Brains Have Multiple Mechanisms for Learning

© ZME Science
One of the most important things humans do is learning this kind of pattern: when A happens, B follows. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, examines how people learn, and finds that they use different mental processes in different situations.

"There's a long history in the field of psychology of two different approaches to thinking about how we learn," says James McClelland of Stanford University, who cowrote the paper with graduate student Daniel Sternberg. One is learning by association; Pavlov's dog learned to associate food with the sound of a bell. "You learn things because they occur together in time," McClelland says. In the brain, this probably happens when the neurons that are associated with food and the sound of the bell form a connection.

But there's another way to learn, too, McClelland says. "If you go into a restaurant, eat two different foods, and get sick, you don't know which one it was. It could have been the peanut sauce or the shrimp. If you go out the next day and eat shrimp and don't get sick, you learn, aha, it's the peanuts that make you sick. But you're using an explicit reasoning process there." The experience with the shrimp indirectly influenced what you know about the peanuts.


Do You Have an "ANT" Infestation? How to Deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts

How do you deal with negative thoughts and limiting beliefs?

Are you aware of your self-talk and thinking patterns?

Many people suffer from an ANT infestation, which stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. Our self-talk is often automatic and can be difficult to notice. We go through life making decisions and behaving based on these automatic thoughts, and instead of controlling what we think about, our thoughts control us.

The thoughts than run our life are often self-defeating, irrational, and simply not true. Negative self-talk leads us to believe we must be perfect, that we're helpless, or that we're a victim. If we're not careful negative self-talk will lead to anxiety, worry, and depression.

You can learn to identify your ANTs and begin to separate and rationalize your negative thoughts before reacting to them.

Comment: There is one proven technique that can assist you with reducing your stress, calming and focusing your mind, creating better links between body and mind and thus improving quality of life, increasing sense of connection with others in your community. It will help you to have improved overall health, a stronger immune system, better impulse control, reduced inflammation, etc. It will also help you to heal emotional wounds; anything that may hinder or prevent you from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.


Compassion and the Shadow

We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger. And we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man ... far too little. His psyche should be studied -- because we are the origin of all coming evil." --C.G. Jung

"Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species." --The Dalai Lama
Humans are wired for empathy, love and cooperation. Because we are psychological animals, however, one recurring factor undermines many of our actions. Our "shadow," as C.G. Jung called the repressed (hidden and often projected) aspect of the personality, tends to assume a life of its own because it is composed of the parts of myself I don't acknowledge and therefore can't integrate into my conscious life. What makes this shadow even more problematic is that it isn't only an individual matter. Our shadows can fuse together, as often happens in wartime, for example, when the enemy comes to symbolize everything evil and despicable about our human nature.

Cognitive neuroscience has discovered that the human brain possesses mirror neurons that automatically enable us to share and enact the experiences of others. Looking at someone else eat a juicy piece of fruit on a hot day, I "virtually" experience those flavours and textures, as well as the refreshment of the person eating it. Looking at television footage of tsunami survivors stirs a deep emotional identification with their devastated choices. Mirror neurons are one of the main drivers of empathy, an automated response over which we have limited control. We may choose or fail to act on empathy, but except for a small percentage of us -- those we call psychopaths -- nobody is immune to another's situation. It has even been suggested that mirror neurons may save the human species because they might inspire an emerging pattern of compassionate response to the on-going global cascade of extreme weather disasters, high-tech accidents and geophysical events such as earthquakes.

Comment: Empathy and compassion result from the inter-communication of neurons, hormones, and organs of the viscera with the brain. The breathing and meditation program, Eiriu Eolas, helps strengthen those connections and improves our capacity for compassion and empathy - among a long list of health benefits.

Bad Guys

United State of Narcissism

© Caravaggio
Narcissus gazing at his own reflection.
Imagine a person who does what he wants, regardless of how it affects other people. He refuses to take responsibility for his own mistakes, and he believes he's unbeatable at anything he undertakes, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Sounds like a textbook narcissist, right? Well, these days, it also sounds a lot like the United States.

Narcissism is on the rise in the US. It's likely to get worse before it gets better, and the economic consequences will likely be severe. Americans today are happy to spend rather than sacrifice, leaving future generations with the bill instead of accepting higher taxes themselves. They choose to keep bathing in a sea of cheap credit rather than cracking down on the practices and institutions that led to the financial crisis. And all along, they insist that their economic system is the best even while neglecting future investments in the very things that make a productive society: education, infrastructure, and scientific research.

So how did this happen? In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, Jean M Twenge and W Keith Campbell find the origins of self-obsession in the 1960s, when people began to cast off societal constraints and expectations in favour of exploring their own human potential. This movement did not begin with a purely narcissistic slant, yet by the 1970s it had morphed into self-admiration, self-expression, and self-absorption. In the 1980s those qualities gave way to self-centredness and self-indulgence, and it was all downhill from there.


How to Talk to Little Girls

girl reading
© Unknown
I went to a dinner party at a friend's home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"

But I didn't. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What's wrong with that? It's our culture's standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn't it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.


Is Google Messing with Your Mind? Search Alters Memory Patterns

© Simon Cataudo
Search engines are making people more likely to rely on computers to “remember” things for them, computers and online search engines have become a kind of external memory system that can be accessed at will -- and that human memory is adapting to it.
Whether the Internet is making us smarter or stupider may be up for debate, but new research shows that search engines are changing the way we learn and remember things.

People are using the Internet as an external "expert" to be accessed at will. This phenomenon, called transactive memory, isn't new; it's been around as long as humans have communicated. We've always relied on experts within our group (which used to be other humans) and, with the invention of the printing press, stored information in books. In those cases, we had to remember only who or what held the information.

"We've always had these people that know things. For example if I want to know about baseball I'd ask my husband," said study researcher Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University. "The Internet is no different, there is just so much more information."

Sparrow's research showed how this link to the Internet means we're more likely to forget the actual information but remember where we can find it. So while this reliance on "the cloud" may make us stupider in some sense, it leaves us with more knowledge at our fingertips.

Another scientist suggests the Internet is hurting humans' social intelligence - their ability to interact face to face.