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Sun, 23 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Robot makes people feel like a ghost is nearby

© Alain Herzog/EPFL
In 2006, cognitive neuroscientist Olaf Blanke of the University of Geneva in Switzerland was testing a patient's brain functions before her epilepsy surgery when he noticed something strange. Every time he electrically stimulated the region of her brain responsible for integrating different sensory signals from the body, the patient would look back behind her back as if a person was there, even when she knew full well that no one was actually present.

Now, with the help of robots, Blanke and colleagues have not only found a neurological explanation for this illusion, but also tricked healthy people into sensing "ghosts," they report online today in Current Biology. The study could help explain why schizophrenia patients sometimes hallucinate that aliens control their movements.

"It's very difficult to try to understand the mechanisms involved in something so strange," says cognitive neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was not involved with the study. "It's very encouraging, very impressive, the way this team is making science out of this question."

Ghosts and apparitions are a common theme in literature and religion. In real life, patients suffering from schizophrenia and epilepsy sometimes report sensing a presence near them. After studying such cases, Blanke found some striking similarities in how epilepsy patients perceive these eerie "apparitions," he says. Almost all patients said the presence felt like a human being positioned right behind their back, almost touching them, with malicious intentions. Patients with brain damage on the left hemisphere felt the ghost at their right side, and vice versa.

People 2

Sense of meaning and purpose in life linked to longer lifespan

© Martinan / Fotolia
A UCL-led study of 9,050 English people with an average age of 65 found that the people with the greatest well-being were 30% less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least well-being.

The study, published in The Lancet as part of a special series on aging, was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. It used questionnaire answers to measure a type of well-being called 'eudemonic well-being', which relates to your sense of control, feeling that what you do is worthwhile, and your sense of purpose in life. People were divided into four categories based on their answers, ranked from highest well-being to lowest well-being.

The results were adjusted for age, sex, socio-economic status, physical health, depression, smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake, to rule out as many factors as possible that could influence both health and well-being. For example, terminal illnesses could reduce both well-being and life expectancy.

Over the next eight and a half years, 9% of people in the highest well-being category had died, compared with 29% in the lowest category. Once all the other factors had been taken into account, people with the highest well-being were 30% less likely to die over the study period, living on average two years longer than those in the lowest well-being group.


Brain dissociates emotional response from explicit memory in fearful situations

© Marek
"In the traumatic events seems that over time there is a portion of memory that is erased or we do not have access, we forget the details but still maintaining the emotional reaction. The imprint is divided into two separate paths. The brain dissociates the explicit memory of a negative event from the emotional response."
Researchers at the Cognition and Brain Plasticity group of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona have been tracking the traces of implicit and explicit memories of fear in human. The study has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and describes how in a context of fear, our brain differently encodes contextual memory of a negative event (the place, what we saw...) and emotional response associated.

The study measures electrodermal activity of 86 individuals in a fearful generated in the laboratory and in a neutral context in which they have to learn a list of words. One week and two weeks after the experiment they are tested to see which words they remembered.

"In both contexts" explains Pau Packard, author of the study, "forgetting curve was normal. Over time they forgot all the words, the explicit trace. Moreover in the fearful context the electrodermal activity, the emotional implicit response, was exactly the same, much higher than in the neutral context."


What we believed about the soul and afterlife as children is what we believe as adults, researchers say

© Thinkstock
If you believed that Chuckie Cheese was heaven when you were a kid, there's a good chance you still believe that today.

According to a new study from Rutgers University, what we believe about the soul and afterlife as children shapes what we believe about them as adults - regardless of what we say.

"My starting point was, assuming that people have these automatic - that is, implicit or ingrained - beliefs about the soul and afterlife, how can we measure those implicit beliefs?" said Stephanie Anglin, a doctoral student in psychology in Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences.

Anglin recruited 348 undergraduate psychology students for the study. The students, with an average age of 18, completed a survey about their current beliefs on the soul and afterlife, as well as their beliefs on both at the age of 10. What she found was that their explicit beliefs - or what they said they believed now - did not match their implicit beliefs. Instead, their implicit beliefs were more in line with what they believed as children.

Even when comparing implicit belief systems by religious affiliation, including believers and non-believers, Anglin found no difference. "That suggests that implicit beliefs are equally strong among religious and non-religious people," she said.


Feeling down? Melancholy tunes can have beneficial emotional effects


Participants in the study revealed that most of the sad songs they listen to are slow in tempo and some of the most popular titles chosen, included: Beethoven’s Midnight Sonata, Ah Bing’s Moon Reflected in the Second Spring and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Mr Barber is pictured left and Beethoven is illustrated right.
  • Researchers at the Free University of Berlin discovered that nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music
  • Melancholy music can improve a person's emotional wellbeing, they said
  • People experience more than three emotions when listening to sad songs
  • Most of us choose to listen to sad music when feeling lonely or distressed
Turn up those tearjerkers and dig out your Radiohead albums, because scientists claim that melancholy music can actually lift your spirits. A new study has revealed that listening to sad songs can improve a person's emotional well-being as well as make us feel at peace and nostalgic.

It found that most people experience more than three emotions when listening to sad songs, which provoke a more complex reaction than happy pop songs.

Music and brain researchers Liila Taruffi and Stefan Koelsch, of the Free University of Berlin, surveyed 722 people across the globe to understand how often they listen to miserable tracks and how they feel at the time. 'For many individuals, listening to sad music can actually lead to beneficial emotional effects,' they wrote in their study, which is published in the journal Plos One. 'Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but [it] also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.'

The study says that sad music stirs up a mixture of complex and 'partially positive' emotions, including nostalgia, peacefulness, tenderness, transcendence, and wonder, Pacific Standard reported. 'Results show four different rewards of music-evoked sadness: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and no "real-life" implications,' the study says. Surprisingly, nostalgia rather than sadness is the most frequent emotion evoked by sad music. Nostalgia was the most common emotion experienced by listeners in Europe and the US, while people in Asia mostly reported feeling a peace.

Comment: See also:
  • Music as medicine for your brain

Try it for yourself! Above are some renditions of the pieces used in the study.


May she rest in Peace: Death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard's voluntary death confirmed

Death-with-dignity advocate Brittany Maynard and husband Dan Diaz at their wedding
Brittany Maynard dies 'as she intended,' agency says

Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill 29-year-old who said she moved to Oregon to use the Death with Dignity Act, has died, a nonprofit group working with the family confirmed Sunday.

Maynard died Saturday in her home in Portland, according to a statement from the agency.

"She died as she intended - peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones," the statement reads.

Compassion & Choices also posted Maynard's obituary, which listed her husband, mother and step-father among surviving family.

People Magazine reported that Maynard took her own life Saturday after posting a final farewell message on Facebook.

"Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me ... but would have taken so much more," Maynard wrote in her final Facebook post.

Comment: Brittany Maynard: Why I scheduled my death for November 1st


How unconditional love helps kids with setbacks

© David Pereiras/Shutterstock
Teens who spend some time thinking about situations in which their peers thought well of them, no matter what they did, may have an easier time coping with setbacks, new findings show.

Adolescents in the study who wrote an essay about a time when they felt "unconditional regard" from their peers had fewer negative feelings about themselves after getting a bad report card than kids who wrote about a time when they felt their peers' regard was "conditional," the researchers found.

"We studied this in early adolescence - a time when negative self-feelings peak, and when children often experience conditional regard from peers," said Eddie Brummelman, who was a Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands when he helped conduct the study. "Although we did not study the actual provision of unconditional regard, our findings do suggest that helping children feel accepted and valued without conditions (for example, by reminding them of unconditionally accepting others) might help them buffer their negative self-feelings."

"Unconditional regard" is similar to the more-familiar "unconditional love," and it means that others accept and value you without reservations or conditions. "Conditional regard refers to others making their regard conditional upon the participant's actions, performances or abilities," Brummelman said.


Subconscious manipulators: Subliminal messages easily bypass conscious perception

The idea of someone or something controlling our every thought and action is so 1980s. Let's face it, we live out our modern, technological lives with access to instant communication and information that allows us to enjoy greater control and freedoms of thought and expression than at any point in recorded human history; right?

Each of us draws comfort from the decisions we make, sure in the knowledge that we are individuals, masters of our own destiny. We mock those that aren't as under the thumb, as easily lead, or weak. Underlying this attitude is the principle that no person or system has the right to influence or determine the free will of another. This may be true, but what if this truth was naive; that even the strong-minded could not trust the direction their thoughts were taking them?

Comment: The author's closing statement, the subconscious mind throws up answers that our conscious cannot even predict, begs the question do we know ourselves? Are we aware of our own thoughts? Are we really masters of our own destiny? Or... are we, as the author suggests, easily manipulated? Easily swayed by subliminal messages? Passive to authority and lacking intuition? For more insightful information about this topic read the forum thread: The Adaptive Unconscious and check out the two following books:
In the international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation - each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives - and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2011, Thinking, Fast and Slow is destined to be a classic.

It might seem that self-knowledge is a central topic in psychology.In some ways it is; from Freud onward, psychologists have been fascinated by the extent to which people know themselves, the limits of this knowledge, and the consequences of failures of self-insight. Surprisingly, however,self-knowledge has not been a mainstream topic in academic psychology. There are few college courses on self knowledgeand few books devoted to the topic, if we ruleout self-help books and ones from a psychoanalytic point
of view.

I think this is about to change. In recent years there has been an explosion of scientific research on self-knowledge that paints a different portrait from the one presented by Freud and his followers. People possess a powerful, sophisticated,adaptive unconscious that is crucial for survival in the world. Because this unconscious operates so efficiently out of view, however, and is largely inaccessible, there is a price to pay in self-knowledge. There is a great deal about ourselves that we cannot know directly, even with the mostpainstaking introspection. How, then, can we discover our nonconscious traits, goals, and feelings? Is it always to our advantage to do so? To what extent are researchers in academics discovering Freud and psychoanalysis? How can self-knowledge be studied scientifically, anyway? These are the questions to which I turn in the following pages. The answers are often surprising and have direct, practical, implications for everyday living. ...


Sense of disgust is '95 percent accurate' predictor of whether you're liberal or conservative

© Shutterstock.com
Woman disgusted by something
Scientists say they can predict "with 95 percent accuracy where you'll fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum by showing you just one picture" and then studying how your brain responds to the image. Furthermore, studies show that political orientation may be as inheritance-based as height.

According to New Scientist, increasing evidence indicates that the sense of disgust is closely aligned with a person's political orientation. People who land on the conservative end of the spectrum have a more easily aroused sense of disgust than their liberal counterparts.

A team of scientists at Virginia Tech led by researcher Read Montague found that people who are more likely to sit on the right side of the political spectrum have a higher sensitivity to disgusting pictures like bodily waste, gore or the remains of dead animals.

Snakes in Suits

A psychopathic trait: The science of 'charismatic voices'

A charismatic voice perhaps - but a psychopath nonetheless!
When a right-wing Italian politician named Umberto Bossi suffered a severe stroke in 2004, his speech became permanently impaired. Strangely, this change impacted Bossi's perception among his party's followers - from appearing authoritarian to benevolent.

Now researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles think they know why. Probing the vocal presence of charisma across cultural divides, the scientists found speakers with a wide range of frequency variation in their voices were more likely to be perceived as dominant. They also found that speakers with a low fundamental rate of vocal fold vibration, called fundamental frequency or F0, are perceived as more dominant than speakers with a high fundamental frequency.

Charismatic voices are made up of two fundamental components, said Rosario Signorello: one biological and one based on language and culture. Signorello is a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA's Bureau of Glottal Affairs who will be speaking on Thursday about his current research at the 168th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), which will be held October 27-31, 2014, at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown Hotel.

The biological component of charismatic voice is innate, Signorello said, and consists of a speaker's manipulation of changes in fundamental frequency to be recognized as a group leader. By using a process of speech synthesis called 'delexicalization,' it is possible to remove the subjective influence of a speech's content, allowing a researcher to study the biological component in a controlled fashion.

Comment: For crucial information on psychopathy and the resulting ponerology read Political Ponerology:

© © Red Pill Press
Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes