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Fri, 23 Jun 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Atheists generally smarter than religious people, new study says

© patrice6000/Shutterstock
For more than a millennium, scholars have noticed a curious correlation: Atheists tend to be more intelligent than religious people.

It's unclear why this trend persists, but researchers of a new study have an idea: Religion is an instinct, they say, and people who can rise above instincts are more intelligent than those who rely on them.

"Intelligence — in rationally solving problems — can be understood as involving overcoming instinct and being intellectually curious and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities," study lead author Edward Dutton, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.


Why creating music leads to enhanced brain activity

© Baycrest Health Sciences
The study found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument alters the brain waves in a way that improves a person's listening and hearing skills over a short time frame.
A recent study conducted at Baycrest Health Sciences has uncovered a crucial piece into why playing a musical instrument can help older adults retain their listening skills and ward off age-related cognitive declines. This finding could lead to the development of brain rehabilitation interventions through musical training.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience on May 24, found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument alters the brain waves in a way that improves a person's listening and hearing skills over a short time frame. This change in brain activity demonstrates the brain's ability to rewire itself and compensate for injuries or diseases that may hamper a person's capacity to perform tasks.

"Music has been known to have beneficial effects on the brain, but there has been limited understanding into what about music makes a difference," says Dr. Bernhard Ross, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and senior author on the study. "This is the first study demonstrating that learning the fine movement needed to reproduce a sound on an instrument changes the brain's perception of sound in a way that is not seen when listening to music."

Comment: 'Train your brain': Forget apps, learn to play a musical instrument

Blue Planet

Do creative people really see the world differently?

What is it about a creative work such as a painting or piece of music that elicits our awe and admiration? Is it the thrill of being shown something new, something different, something the artist saw that we did not?

As Pablo Picasso put it:
Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.
The idea that some people see more possibilities than others is central to the concept of creativity.

Psychologists often measure creativity using divergent thinking tasks. These require you to generate as many uses as possible for mundane objects, such as a brick. People who can see numerous and diverse uses for a brick (say, a coffin for a Barbie doll funeral diorama) are rated as more creative than people who can only think of a few common uses (say, for building a wall).

The aspect of our personality that appears to drive our creativity is called openness to experience, or openness. Among the five major personality traits, it is openness that best predicts performance on divergent thinking tasks. Openness also predicts real-world creative achievements, as well as engagement in everyday creative pursuits.


The link between opioid receptors and 'feeling' another person's pain

© scientificamerican.com
The way in which the human brain's opioid system modulates responses to other people's pain has been elucidated by a recent study from researchers at Turku PET Centre and Aalto University.

Seeing others experiencing pain activated brain circuits that are known to support actual first-hand experience of pain. The fewer opioid receptors in the participants' brains, the stronger were their emotion and pain circuits' response to seeing others in distress.

Similar association was not found for the dopamine system despite its known importance in pain management.
"Capacity for vicarious experiences is a fundamental aspect of human social behaviour. Our results demonstrate the importance of the endogenous opioid system in helping us to relate with others' feelings. Interindividual differences in the opioid system could explain why some individuals react more strongly than others to someone else's distress,"
says Researcher Tomi Karjalainen from Turku PET Centre.

Comment: Other researchers have reached the same conclusion that 'turning on the opioid pathways in the brain—as both placebo painkillers and true opioids do—can simultaneously dampen both pain and empathy'.


Narcissistic abuse: A public health scourge

World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day is June 1, and everyone, unless you're living under a rock, has heard the word narcissist. In fact, the word is tossed around so liberally these days, its meaning becoming so diluted, that posting an occasional selfie can make people suspect you of being a narcissist.

Ironically, despite the popularity of the word, most people have never heard of the phrase "narcissistic abuse."

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is primarily inflicted by individuals who have either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD, which is characterized by a lack of empathy), or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD, also known as sociopaths or psychopaths), and is associated with the absence of a conscience.

You may be wondering if most people haven't even heard of narcissistic abuse, then why is it so important to raise awareness about it? Unfortunately, since it's such an under recognized, understudied public health issue, statistics are hard to come by regarding this form of abuse.

So, how do I justify the need to raise awareness about a major public health issue when there are no statistics regarding its prevalence? Sandra L. Brown, founder of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education, describes in her article, 60 Million Persons in the U.S. Negatively Affected by Someone Else's Pathology, how she arrived at this staggering figure:


Why curious People have stronger relationships

Research suggests that being curious might be a social glue that strengthens our relationships.

There's an old saying: "Curiosity killed the cat." It implies curiosity is bad for you and leads to dangerous risk-taking behavior. But this idea of curiosity is pretty outdated—in humans, at least.

Curiosity—the desire to approach novel and challenging ideas and experiences in order to increase one's knowledge—has long been associated with intellectual pursuit, engagement with the world, memory, and learning. Now, more recent research suggests that curiosity may also play a role in our social relationships.

Studies have found that people who are curious are often viewed in social encounters as more interesting and engaging, and they are more apt to reach out to a wider variety of people. In addition, being curious seems to protect people from negative social experiences, like rejection, which could lead to better connection with others over time.

Comment: See also: Awe engages your vagus nerve


What keeps us happy & healthy? Good relationships

© Brain Pickings
Have you ever heard of the Harvard study that ran for 75 years to assess what makes us happy? It's a revolutionary study in psychology.

It followed the lives of two groups of men for over 75 years, and it now follows their Baby Boomer children to understand how childhood experience reaches across decades to affect health and wellbeing in middle age.

So what keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone - but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction and he lays it all bear in the Ted talk below.

Comment: Social bonds improve physical and mental well-being at every stage of life

Red Flag

Questions you're not supposed to ask about life in a sick society

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." ~ J. Krishnamurti
Society is directed by a never-ending mainstream narrative which is always evolving, and always reaching new dramatic peaks in sensationalism and hype. They fill your mind with topics they select, they keep your attention on these topics, and they invite and encourage you to argue amongst each other about these topics. In this way our collective attention is permanently commandeered, preventing us from diving too deeply into matters which have more than a superficial impact on day-today life.

Free-thinking is the ability and willingness to explore ideas and areas of the mind which are yet undiscovered or are off-limits. It is a vanishing art that is deliberately being stamped out by a control system which demands conformity, acquiescence and obedience of body, mind, and spirit.

For your consideration, here are three questions you're not supposed to ask about life in our profoundly sick society.


Learning to read profoundly transforms the brain from stem to cortex

© Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Illiterate women in northern India.
A new study found that the human brain has to patch together a network that handles reading by re-purposing areas deep inside the brain into visual-language interfaces. The team reports that the brain can undergo this process with surprising ease.

Evolutionary speaking, reading is very novel for humans — not to mention wide-spread, widely employed reading and writing. Because of this, we didn't develop a specific region in the brain to handle this process.

So what do you do if you're a brain and you have to learn to make sense of these scribbles and marks for your human? You improvise, of course! Working withing the bounds of the skull means this 'improvisation' is more of a 're-qualification', as some areas of the visual cortex — usually handling complex shape recognition — get bent to the task, while some of the earliest areas of the brain take on a mediating role between the language and visual system.

Old brain, new tricks

The fact that learning to read will cause physical changes in the brain, such as the creation of new pathways, isn't exactly news. But until now, we've believed that the changes literacy brings about are confined to the cortex, the outer layer of the brain which handles higher functions and can adapt quickly to master new skills and overcome challenges.

Comment: See also: How learning to read changes your brain


Jordan Peterson on how to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts

This modern day Intellectual shows us how one can deal with the demons of depression and suicide.

Comment: The following is a transcript of a video located at the bottom of the page of one of Jordan Peterson's many talks on human psychology, in particular dealing with thoughts of depression and suicide. He's a modern day Intellectual who teaches practical and useful advice on how human beings can orient themselves to the often times harsh environment around us.


You want to stay inside this little map because it's working. You want to get from point A to point B - and this is good. This indicates that you are moving forward, and the second thing it indicates - and you'll never hear this from behavioral psychologists - is that your map is correct. So every time you move a little bit forward and something that you want happens, it say's 'Oh, the game I'm playing is the right game.'

Not only does the reward indicate progress, it indicates that the frame in which progress is being calculated is the right frame. And that's good because it's the frame that makes things irrelevant. And you want them to stay irrelevant. So if you don't move forward and you start to question the frame, that's way worse then merely not moving forward. You get a bad exam grade and think 'What the hell am I doing in University anyways?' That's probably not the first place you should go with that piece of information.