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Fri, 30 Sep 2022
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Even before language, babies learn the world through sounds

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© Unknown
It's not just the words, but the sounds of words that have meaning for us. This is true for children and adults, who can associate the strictly auditory parts of language - vowels produced in the front or the back of the mouth, high or low pitch - with blunt or pointy things, large or small things, fast-moving or long-staying things.

Do the same principles apply for young infants, and not just to things, but also to abstractions? A new study by Marcela Peña, Jacques Mehler, and Marina Nespor, working together at the International School for Advanced Studies, in Trieste, Italy and Catholic University of Chile, says yes. For the first time ever, the researchers have demonstrated that these physical properties of speech are associated, very early in life, with abstract concepts - in this case, larger and smaller. The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers worked with 28 four-month-old babies from Spanish-speaking homes. The babies sat on their parents' laps (the parents were visually masked) in a soundproof room, into which were piped nonsense syllables composed of consonants followed by the vowels I or O, or E or A. The babies were simultaneously shown larger and smaller versions of circles, ovals, squares, or triangles, in different colors. Using an eye tracker, experimenters recorded which object the infants looked at first and how long they gazed at each object.

Magic Wand

Teaching the neurons to meditate

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© Unknown
In the late 1990s, Jane Anderson was working as a landscape architect. That meant she didn't work much in the winter, and she struggled with seasonal affective disorder in the dreary Minnesota winter months. She decided to try meditation and noticed a change within a month. "My experience was a sense of calmness, of better ability to regulate my emotions," she says. Her experience inspired a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.

Previous studies have found that Buddhist monks, who have spent tens of thousands of hours of meditating, have different patterns of brain activity. But Anderson, who did this research as an undergraduate student together with a team of University of Wisconsin-Stout faculty and students, wanted to know if they could see a change in brain activity after a shorter period.

At the beginning of the study, each participant had an EEG, a measurement of the brain's electrical activity. They were told: "Relax with your eyes closed, and focus on the flow of your breath at the tip of your nose; if a random thought arises, acknowledge the thought and then simply let it go by gently bringing your attention back to the flow of your breath."

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To learn more about Vagus Nerve Stimulation, through breathing exercises, and naturally producing the stress reducing and mood enhancing hormone Oxytocin in the brain, visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program here.


Butterfly

Why Gardening is Good for Your Health

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© CNN Health
Gardening can ease stress, keep you limber, and even improve your mood.
Gillian Aldrich started growing vegetables in her backyard three years ago, and she's now working on planting a bed of hydrangeas, butterfly bushes, rose campion, and - her favorite - pale-pink hardy geraniums along one side of her property.

As she digs in the garden, her 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son often play around her, sometimes taking a break to dig for worms or pick strawberries.

Instead of watching them, Aldrich is playing, too - "my kind of play," she says.

"When you sit at a desk all day, there's something about literally putting your hands in the dirt, digging and actually creating something that's really beautiful," says Aldrich, 42, a magazine editor in Maplewood, New Jersey. "There's something about just being out there that feels kind of elemental."

Aldrich isn't the only one who feels this way. Many gardeners view their hobby as the perfect antidote to the modern world, a way of reclaiming some of the intangible things we've lost in our busy, dirt-free lives.

People

Children's personalities linked to their chemical response to stress

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© Unknown
Is your kid a "dove" - cautious and submissive when confronting new environments, or perhaps you have a "hawk" - bold and assertive in unfamiliar settings?

These basic temperamental patterns are linked to opposite hormonal responses to stress - differences that may provide children with advantages for navigating threatening environments, researchers report in a study published online July 8, 2011, in Development and Psychopathology.

"Divergent reactions - both behaviorally and chemically - may be an evolutionary response to stress," says Patrick Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and the lead author of the study. "These biological reactions may have provided our human ancestors with adaptive survival advantages. For example, dovish compliance may work better under some challenging family conditions, while hawkish aggression could be an asset in others." This evolutionary perspective, says Davies, provides an important counterpoint to the prevailing idea in psychology that "there is one healthy way of being and that all behaviors are either adaptive or maladaptive."

Family

Thirst for Fairness May Have Helped Us Survive

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© Serge Bloch
Among the Ache hunter-gatherers in eastern Paraguay, healthy adults with no dependent offspring are expected to donate as much as 70 to 90 percent of the food they forage to the needier members of the group. And as those strapping suppliers themselves fall ill, give birth or grow old, they know they can count on the tribe to provide.

Among the !Kung bushmen of the Kalahari in Africa, a successful hunter who may be inclined to swagger is kept in check by his compatriots through a ritualized game called "insulting the meat." You asked us out here to help you carry that pitiful carcass? What is it, some kind of rabbit?

Among the Hadza foragers of northern Tanzania, people confronted by a stingy food sharer do not simply accept what's offered. They hold out their hand, according to Frank Marlowe, an anthropologist at Durham University in England, "encouraging the giver to keep giving until the giver finally draws the line."

Among America's top executives today, according to a study commissioned by The New York Times, the average annual salary is about $10 million and rising some 12 percent a year. At the same time, the rest of the tribe of the United States of America struggles with miserably high unemployment, stagnant wages and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now, maybe the wealth gap is a temporary problem, and shiny new quarters will soon rain down on us all. But if you're feeling tetchy and surly about the lavished haves when you have not a job, if you're tempted to go out and insult a piece of corporate meat, researchers who study the nature and evolution of human social organization say they are hardly surprised.

Bulb

New research shows that we control our forgetfulness

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© Unknown
Have you heard the saying "You only remember what you want to remember"? Now there is evidence that it may well be correct. New research from Lund University in Sweden shows that we can train ourselves to forget things.

The assumption that we human beings can control and intentionally forget unwanted memories has been controversial ever since Freud asserted it at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, psychology researcher Gerd Thomas Waldhauser has shown in neuroimaging studies that Freud was correct in his assumptions: in the same way as we can control our motor impulses (we can for example rapidly instruct the brain not to catch a cactus which is falling from a table), we can control our memory.

Waldhauser's tests are carried out in a laboratory environment where volunteers are asked to practise forgetting, or attempting to forget facts. Through EEG measurements, Waldhauser shows that the same parts of the brain are activated when we restrain a motor impulse and when we suppress a memory. And just as we can practise restraining motor impulses, we can also train ourselves to repress memories, i.e. to forget.

Magic Wand

Are Positive Fantasies Couterproductive?

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© Creative Common
It's a trusted tool in the self-help armoury - visualising yourself having achieved your goals, be that weighing less, enjoying the view atop Everest, or walking down the aisle with the girl or boy of your dreams. Trouble is, reams of research shows that indulging in positive fantasies actually makes people's fantasised ambitions less likely to become reality. Why? A new study claims it's because positive fantasies are de-energising.

They "make energy seem unnecessary" say Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen. "By allowing people to consummate a desired future", the researchers say, positive fantasies trigger the relaxation that would normally accompany actual achievement, rather than marshaling the energy needed to obtain it.

The researchers demonstrated this process across four studies. The first was the least convincing and read like a throwback to the 1960s. Women who were asked to fantasise positively about looking and feeling good in high-heeled shoes subsequently demonstrated lower energy, as revealed by their having lowing blood pressure, than did women asked to fantasise more critically about the pros and cons of wearing trendy, high-heeled shoes.

The research improved. In the second study, participants asked to fantasise positively about winning an essay contest subsequently reported feeling less energised than did participants asked to fantasise more negatively about their prospects.

Magic Wand

Scientists claim that 'self' can relocate to other bodies, or be made to include a third arm

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© Unknown
Neoroscientists claim that the transference of one's self to another body (as depicted here in the film 'Metropolis') is possible, on a psychological level
For millennia, philosophers have debated whether or not the self exists solely in the mind, the body, or both. Well, it's unclear whether this will help clear things up or just muddy the waters further, but Swedish neuroscientists are now claiming that the human brain can add outside objects such as a third arm to one's physical sense of self, and that people can even mentally project their "self" out of their own body and into someone else's. If these findings hold up, the implications for virtual reality, robotics and prostheses could be substantial.

Experiments were performed at Stockholm's Karolinska Institutet medical university, in which a highly-realistic prosthetic right arm was placed on a table beside human subjects' own arms, so they could see all three. Scientists then simultaneously touched both the prosthetic arm and the subjects' own right arms with a small brush, at the same location on both arms.

Bulb

The Backfire Effect

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

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Wired, The New York Times, Backyard Poultry Magazine - they all do it. Sometimes, they screw up and get the facts wrong. In ink or in electrons, a reputable news source takes the time to say "my bad."

If you are in the news business and want to maintain your reputation for accuracy, you publish corrections. For most topics this works just fine, but what most news organizations don't realize is a correction can further push readers away from the facts if the issue at hand is close to the heart. In fact, those pithy blurbs hidden on a deep page in every newspaper point to one of the most powerful forces shaping the way you think, feel and decide - a behavior keeping you from accepting the truth.

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first. For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn't surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct.

Family

Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

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A Beautiful woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. "Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?" reads the caption, suggesting that the young woman is not alluring at all. She is sick.

But is she?

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects - nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures - drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad's insinuation aside, it's also possible the young woman is "just shy," or introverted - traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill.