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Fri, 22 Jun 2018
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Friendships are better than drugs for taking pain away!

friendships pain tolerance
© ryflip / Fotolia
Friendships may really help take the pain away, research shows.
People with more friends have higher pain tolerance, Oxford University researchers have found.

Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the University's Department of Experimental Psychology, was studying whether differences in our neurobiology may help explain why some of us have larger social networks than others.

She said: 'I was particularly interested in a chemical in the brain called endorphin. Endorphins are part of our pain and pleasure circuitry -- they're our body's natural painkillers and also give us feelings of pleasure. Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals. One theory, known as 'the brain opioid theory of social attachment', is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends.

'To test this theory, we relied on the fact that endorphin has a powerful pain-killing effect -- stronger even than morphine.'

The researchers therefore used pain tolerance as a way to assess the brain's endorphin activity. If the theory was correct, people with larger social networks would have higher pain tolerance, and this was what their study found. Friendships may really help take the pain away!

Comment: Since our relationships with others form such an important part of our lives, being able to form intimate and meaningful relationships becomes of paramount importance. Engaging the vagus nerve is one of the best ways to help improve social communication and bonding. Vagus nerve stimulation releases hormones such as prolactin, vasopressin and oxytocin which are anti-stress and social-bonding hormones. Oxytocin is known as the 'cuddle hormone', so it is no wonder that the vagus nerve has been called the 'nerve of compassion'. In fact, the vagus nerve is intertwined with neural networks involved in pro-social and empathetic communication, involving muscle groups that are related in care-taking. Oxytocin is intimately involved in the experience of trust and love.

The breathing and meditation techniques of the Éiriú Eolas program are geared towards stimulating the vagus nerve. Visit the Éiriú Eolas site to learn more about the scientific background of this program and then try it out for yourselves, free of charge.


A love affair with the great outdoors

love of outdoors
Growing up, my athletic prospects could best be described as abysmal. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was seven, and I failed swim lessons three years in a row. At the end of the year cross country banquet, the best my coach could say about me was, "She wasn't last in a single race. Except for one, and that was just for most of it." But while I had no hopes of blossoming into an athlete, I could spend as much time as I wanted playing and exploring outside. The outdoors was forgiving. It did not ask me to be talented, fast, or to have hand-eye coordination. Nevertheless, it offered me challenges - to paddle farther, hike longer, or to simply take the time to appreciate it.

Comment: See also: Playing outside will make your kids smarter


Playing outside will make your kids smarter

kids outside
© yummymummy
Today, the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes outside in unstructured play each day.

When I was a kid, I lived outside. Most warm evenings would have me and most of the neighborhood kids riding bikes, building forts, catching lightning bugs, or just laying in the grass until the streetlights blinked on or our mothers called us for dinner. I grew up in an age when organized athletics for five year olds were rare, when parents didn't orchestrate their children's every waking moment, when mothers and fathers didn't feel so pressured for their kids to perform and succeed. There was an abundance of free time and my mother didn't want me in her hair. I am a much better person for it.

Comment: Consider the frightening fact that today's children spend less time outside than the average prisoner! It is painfully obvious that children are suffering a severe play deficit. Read more about the important reasons to leave no child inside:


New study shows music may help babies learn language skills

Baby Playing
© Yukmin/Getty Images
Learning a musical rhythm may help young babies learn language rhythms.
Babies who engage in musical play may have an easier time picking up language skills, a new study suggests.

US researchers compared nine-month-old babies who played with toys and trucks to those who practiced banging out a rhythm during a series of play sessions.

They found the musical group showed more brain activity in regions involved with detecting patterns, an important skill when it comes to learning language.

Previous studies in children and adults have found a relationship between music training and processing sound, but it has been unclear about whether people involved in those studies developed superior sound perception as a result of music training, or they had natural auditory skills that predisposed them towards music in the first place.

"Our study is the first in young babies to suggest that experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can also improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech," said lead author Christina Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS).

"This means that early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills," Dr Zhao said.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was small, enrolling just 39 babies and their parents, who took part in a dozen 15-minute play sessions over the course of a month.

Twenty of the babies listened to recorded children's music while they sat with their parents and helped pound out drum beats to music that included waltz rhythms and tunes like Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a baseball classic.

The other 19 babies also attended active play sessions that used toys and blocks, but without music.


Don't hug your dog -- it raises his stress levels

dog hug
© Modified from a Humane Society of Greater Rochester photo, Creative Commons License
I never met a dog I didn't want to hug. The feeling, alas, is likely not mutual. In a giant bummer of an article published recently in Psychology Today, Stanley Coren — who studies canine behavior at the University of British Columbia — makes a sadly strong case against the dog hug, arguing that although humans love embracing their canine pals, the physical contact stresses dogs out.

If you know what to look for, their annoyance becomes obvious. Lesson one: Coren writes that a dog's most common outward signal of stress or anxiety is when he "turns his head away from whatever is bothering or worrying him, sometimes also closing his eyes, at least partially." Lesson two: Just like humans, dogs have whites of the eye — it's just that you never see it unless the animal is stressed. And lesson three: An anxious or stressed-out dog's ears will be "lowered or slicked against the side of his head," Coren writes.

Comment: What about hugging a cat?


The more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have

gratitude, thanks
When an emotion can be more powerful in curbing impulsiveness than thoughts.

Being grateful helps to increase self-control and reduce impulsive behaviours, new research finds.

People who cultivate gratitude towards everyday events are also more patient.

Professor David DeSteno, one of the study's authors, said:
"We can all point to the five things in our lives that we're most grateful for, but if we keep thinking about those, we'll habituate to them—they're going to stop being interesting.

Those kinds of daily gratitude boosters will function like a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance self-control and future orientedness."

Comment: The benefits of practicing gratitude are countless. Feeling grateful helps release toxic emotions such as frustration, envy, regret and resentment and increases our sensitivity and empathy toward others.

Light Saber

Traits of extremely smart people that have nothing to do with IQ

reading, intelligence
You're probably smarter than you think you are, if you seldom assume you're smart at all. So the less intelligent you assume yourself to be, the smarter you probably are.

Years ago researchers discovered that smartness does not equal intelligence. Intelligence is systematically measurable and defined as an ability to acquire new knowledge and skills and to use them.

Genuinely smart people do not have to be 'brainiacs'. Most often than not, they will go through school being average, never drawing attention to themselves by being stellar performers, athletes, or spelling bee champions. Their unique skill set will help them out more in the real world, which is not boxed into a set of academic rules and expectations. Highly intelligent people have the upper hand in a well-organized, structured environment, but they will still often be outperformed by smart individuals who might not be their intellectual equals.

Mental proficiency and ability can be categorized in different ways. A popular manner is 'book smarts' and 'street smarts'. 'Book smarts' refers to academically focused mind, good at abstract thought, but bad at common sense and simple relationships.

'Street smarts' is the opposite strong common sense, good with real world situations, but bad at academic study. There is a group of people that fit within both groups. These people are truly intelligent and use their brilliance to adapt and grow as needed to any situation.

Comment: Being genuinely smart also implies having a high degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness:

Cloud Precipitation

Emotional self-abuse: How we can be our own worst enemies

negative self-talk, emotional abuse
He is a multimillionaire client of mine. Handsome. Accomplished. Respected. Gentle. Reflective. Kind.

And I was examining every angle of why he was allowing a clearly destructive woman (borderline personality disorder) out of his life. He agreed over and over again that she was bad for him, that she felt no remorse, that suddenly abandoning partners was her longtime modus operandi, and yet, he couldn't let go.

With enough digging, a story emerged.

"I was small as a kid. I was the last guy picked for all the teams. I guess I'm afraid nobody will pick me again if I can't get her back."

So he was telling himself, "You're not good enough! Why would anybody ever pick you?" He was his own best emotional abuser.

Stories of emotional abuse fill magazines and newspapers (and Lifetime movies), but little is said about how we often do the job on ourselves first. It's easy to see how partners abuse each other — we can hear the insults and witness the behaviors — but what happens when the denigrating talk, shaming, threatening and behavioral choices happen inside one's own head?

What happens is that the behavior — unspotted by those who care — persists.

Comment: Critical self-talk destroys the spirit, but we can train ourselves to replace those ugly messages with a more balanced perspective. Listening and identifying the critic by slowing down and paying more attention to our unconscious thought processes is the first step. With more awareness, we can then take steps to distance ourselves by refusing to listen, and then begin to grow a stronger inner voice that can respond with statements that are supportive and we know to be true.


Why are we so bored? We live in a world of constant entertainment - but is too much stimulation boring?

© Sportsphoto/Allstar
Nothing to do: the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, in which five students endure a day’s detention
It amazes me when people proclaim that they are bored. Actually, it amazes me that I am ever bored, or that any of us are. With so much to occupy us these days, boredom should be a relic of a bygone age - an age devoid of the internet, social media, multi-channel TV, 24-hour shopping, multiplex cinemas, game consoles, texting and whatever other myriad possibilities are available these days to entertain us.

Yet despite the plethora of high-intensity entertainment constantly at our disposal, we are still bored. Up to half of us are "often bored" at home or at school, while more than two- thirds of us are chronically bored at work. We are bored by paperwork, by the commute and by dull meetings. TV is boring, as is Facebook and other social media. We spend our weekends at dull parties, watching tedious films or listening to our spouses drone on about their day. Our kids are bored - bored of school, of homework and even of school holidays.

Comment: 'I'm bored!' -- Research on attention sheds light on the unengaged mind


The Japanese tea ceremony: Chado, "the way of tea"

tea ceremony
Like so many traditional Japanese arts, the formal tea ceremony called chado, or "the Way of Tea," is an ode to harmony—in this case, the harmony between tea, art, nature, organic materials, and people. Highly influenced by Zen Buddhism, chado has been used as a sacred and meditative ritual in Japan throughout the ages. From the processing of the tea to the way it is served, all aspects of the ceremony demand mindfulness and care. While chado is typically a privileged experience of the elite, you certainly don't need attend a formal ceremony to infuse its spirit into your everyday tea drinking rituals. The powdered green tea present in the ceremony, matcha, can be purchased in specialty stores, and we sell the more common leafed green tea as a primary ingredient in our certified organic line of Fair Trade, blended green teas.

Comment: See also: Dandelion root: Immune system builder & anti-cancer properties