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Sat, 21 Jan 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Murderers may be hardwired to kill

Charles Manson, convicted serial killer, is escorted by police in 1969.
Serial killers and other people who repeatedly commit violent crimes, such as assault and battery, may be hardwired to hurt others, suggests a new study that identifies two genetic variants tied to extreme violent behavior.

The findings, published in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry, could help to explain why the majority of violent crimes are committed by a small group of antisocial, repeat offenders. The extensive study represents the first effort to investigate the genetic background of people exhibiting such repetitive, brutal behavior.

"I think that we have found two genes that have the largest effect in aggressive behavior, and that there are probably tens or hundreds of other genes having smaller effects," lead author Jari Tiihonen told Discovery News.

Comment: But it's important to remember, that there is a kind of predator, that may not murder, but still cause tremendous damage, ruin lives and inflict pain on others around them.


Unconscious mind influences accuracy of decisions

© alphaspirit/iStockphoto
The idea that unconscious information can influence our decisions has been an intriguing but controversial idea in psychology.
Information processed unconsciously can influence the accuracy of our decisions without us knowing it, new research has found.

"People tend to think the decisions they make are based on deliberation but there are elements in every type of decision we make that are unconscious -- a lot more than people think," says PhD candidate Alexandra Vlassova, of the University of New South Wales.

"Unconscious information could make your decisions better but it could also make them worse."

The idea that unconscious information can influence our decisions has been an intriguing but controversial idea in psychology, says Vlassova.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she and colleagues report on a study designed to overcome the limitations of previous research into this question.

Participants were given the task of deciding whether a group of grey dots were moving left or right across a computer screen.

"The longer you look at the dots, the more evidence you get and at a certain point you have enough evidence to make your decision," says Vlassova.

"That's quite similar to how we make any type of decision. We accumulate information over time until we have enough to make a decision."


It's better for memory to make mistakes while learning

...but only if the guesses are 'close-but-no-cigar'

© iStockphoto
Making mistakes while learning can benefit memory and lead to the correct answer, but only if the guesses are close-but-no-cigar, according to new research findings from Baycrest Health Sciences.

"Making random guesses does not appear to benefit later memory for the right answer , but near-miss guesses act as stepping stones for retrieval of the correct information - and this benefit is seen in younger and older adults," says lead investigator Andrée-Ann Cyr, a graduate student with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Cyr's paper is posted online today in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (ahead of print publication). The study expands upon a previous paper she published in Psychology and Aging in 2012 that found that learning information the hard way by making mistakes (as opposed to just being told the correct answer) may be the best boot camp for older brains.

Cupcake Choco

Sex, chocolate... new language? Same pleasure for human brain, scientists say

© Reuters/Christian Hartmann
Learning new words stimulates the same brain center as such long-proven means of deriving pleasure, as having sex, gambling or eating chocolate, a new study says.

A team of Spanish and German researchers at Barcelona's Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and Otto von Guericke University has found that successful learning of the meanings of new words activates a core reward center in the adult brain. They have recently published their findings in the Current Biology journal.

The ventral striatum is a part of the brain activated by actions that trigger positive emotions, should it be sugary food, sex or drugs.

Traditionally, the process of learning of a new language was associated with a boost in the number of connections between neurons, but it wasn't proven that emotions are also involved.

"The purpose of the study was to find out to what extent learning a language could activate these pleasure-and-reward circuits," study author Antoni Rodríguez Fornells told La Vanguardia, Catalan daily newspaper.


Learning is fun! Study shows the pleasure of learning new words

© Unknown
learning is fun - results confirm that the motivation to learn is preserved throughout the lifespan
From our very first years, we are intrinsically motivated to learn new words and their meanings. First language acquisition occurs within a permanent emotional interaction between parents and children. However, the exact mechanism behind the human drive to acquire communicative linguistic skills is yet to be established.

In a study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB), the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg (Germany) have experimentally proved that human adult word learning exhibit activation not only of cortical language regions but also of the ventral striatum, a core region of reward processing. Results confirm that the motivation to learn is preserved throughout the lifespan, helping adults to acquire a second language.

Researchers determined that the reward region that is activated is the same that answers to a wide range of stimuli, including food, sex, drugs or game. "The main objective of the study was to know to what extent language learning activates subcortical reward and motivational systems," explains Pablo Ripollés, PhD student at UB-IDIBELL and first author of the article. "Moreover, the fact that language could be favoured by this type of circuitries is an interesting hypothesis from an evolutionary point of view," points out the expert.

According to Antoni Rodríguez Fornells, UB lecturer and ICREA researcher at IDIBELL, "the language region has been traditionally located at an apparently encapsulated cortical structure which has never been related to reward circuitries, which are considered much older from an evolutionary perspective." "The study -- he adds -- questions whether language only comes from cortical evolution or structured mechanisms and suggests that emotions may influence language acquisition processes."

Subcortical areas are closely related to those that help to store information. Therefore, those facts or pieces of information that awake an emotion are more easily to remember and learn.


How your memory deceives you

© agsandrew/Shutterstock
Two beloved sci-fi franchises returned to the screens this fall burdened with shaky memories. In ABC's superhero spy TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the lead character, Phil Coulson, is still reeling from a case of implanted memories. Meanwhile, the movie adaptation of the young-adult novel The Maze Runner opens on a hero with amnesia who is stranded in a dystopian maze.

These characters' memories betray them in seemingly fantastical ways, but the recollections stored between your own ears may hardly be any better. From vivid images of events that never happened to bad memories artificially engineered in the lab, here are the real-life ways your brain can distort your past.

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., super-spy Coulson carries on with his superhero-monitoring work from the Avengers movies. This season, he must do so with the knowledge that his traumatic death and recovery had been papered over in his own mind by images of a fictional Tahiti vacation. (Killed off in the Avengers movie, Coulson was revived by mysterious techniques in the show.) In one disturbing scene, the real memory returns - and he recalls a spiderlike machine rewriting the information in his brain.


How stress affects your mind and body

We all know we should lower our stress levels, but it isn't always easy. Sometimes, though, knowing exactly how stress is affecting us can be highly motivating to take steps that will actually decrease stress in our lives. Whether we do it by spending time in nature, practicing yoga or tai chi, laughing more often, or by unplugging from our computers and smart phones for at least a few hours every day, lowering stress is imperative. Here are 5 reasons why learning how to destress is so important!


Glimpses of the after-life: Life-changing near-death experiences


One man had a vision of his father sailing a canoe towards a huddle of loved-ones on a pier as he took his final breaths.
Neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander was convinced out-of-body experiences were hallucinations - until he went into a coma himself and had what he now believes was a glimpse of heaven.

In this second extract from his book The Map Of Heaven, Dr Alexander, who has taught at Harvard Medical School, reveals many others have also seen what he described.

A near-death experience will change your life in more ways than one. It means you have survived a serious illness or a major accident, for one thing, and that alone is one of the most significant events imaginable.

But the aftermath, as you adjust to your radical new perspective, can be even more significant. For me, it was as if my old world was dead and I had been reborn into a new one.

Coping with that is hard: how do you replace your old vision of the universe with a new one, without unravelling into chaos?

How do you take that step from one world to another one, without slipping and falling between the two?

Comment: Reality is far more complex and interesting than we are told by the authorities in the Church of Science. For the ruling psychopathic mindset, the idea of continuous life, non-linearity and the possibility of higher dimensions is strangely alien and impossible to accept or even entertain. This empty view of reality is projected onto normal humans, becoming the "official" view of the Universe, and inspires an unreasonable fear of the unknown. And after all, a population without fear of death would not be so easily controlled by a corrupt ruling elite.


Receiving gossip about others promotes self-reflection and growth

Gossip is pervasive in our society, and our penchant for gossip can be found in most of our everyday conversations. Why are individuals interested in hearing gossip about others' achievements and failures? Researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the effect positive and negative gossip has on how the recipient evaluates him or herself. The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

In spite of some positive consequences, gossip is typically seen as destructive and negative. However, hearing gossip may help individuals adapt to a social environment, illustrate how an individual can improve, or reveal potential threats.

Design of the study

The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information. Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.

People 2

Coping with voices in the schizophrenic brain

"I don't believe in anything. That's my cardinal rule. I do it for my mental health. If I believe in God, then I start talking to God and God starts talking to me. As soon as I start believing in something, then it talks to me. So, I don't believe in anything."

Sara, whose name we changed to protect her identity, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19 during her senior year at New York University. She had not experienced any trauma as a child - no abuse, no bouts of depression, nothing that would raise any red flags. She led a more or less happy life. But in high school she experimented with drugs, and upon travelling abroad around the same time, she experienced intense culture shock.

This series of events may have been Sara's personalized recipe for mental illness, cooked up with all the flavors of her unique position in life, her temperament, and her family's history. Her mind became a prison; she felt as though people were constantly laughing at her. She could no longer distinguish fantasy from reality. She assumed she wouldn't go back to school.

Comment: Unfortunately under the western medical model, admitting to hearing voices is the first step on the pathway to a lifetime of drugging with anti-psychotics and all the side effects that come with them. With the proper professional support, working through and learning from hallucinatory experiences is a step in the right direction. Also, never discount the role of diet in mental illness.

Gluten Intolerance Tied to Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and Gluten Sensitivity - Is There a Connection?