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Thu, 05 Aug 2021
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Attention and Awareness Aren't The Same

brain
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Paying attention to something and being aware of it seem like the same thing -they both involve somehow knowing the thing is there. However, a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that these are actually separate; your brain can pay attention to something without you being aware that it's there.

"We wanted to ask, can things attract your attention even when you don't see them at all?" says Po-Jang Hsieh, of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and MIT. He co-wrote the study with Jaron T. Colas and Nancy Kanwisher of MIT. Usually, when people pay attention to something, they also become aware of it; in fact, many psychologists assume these two concepts are inextricably linked. But more evidence has suggested that's not the case.

2 + 2 = 4

Meditation can help unclutter the mind

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Meditation once was thought to be a mysterious practice reserved for Buddhist monks or hippie types. But now we see articles about meditation and the benefits to our health in magazines and on television, and we hear people talking about their own practice of meditation.

In our culture, which often views multi-tasking as a sign of competence, focusing your attention on one thing can seem unproductive. But members of many Eastern religions long have realized the benefits of meditation. In Western civilization, it could be compared to some of the benefits we are familiar with during times of silence, appreciation of nature or prayer.

As long ago as 1968, Dr. Herbert Benson and his colleagues at the Harvard Medical School started putting meditation to the test. Since then, researchers have found the practice successful in the treatment and prevention of high blood pressure, heart disease, migraine headaches and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. In the mental health profession, it has proven to be helpful in curbing obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression and anger.

Magic Wand

Cheap Shot! APS sez: Depression and Negative Thoughts: Refocusing and Stronger Working Memory Are the Key

brain
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We all have our ups and downs - a fight with a friend, a divorce, the loss of a parent. But most of us get over it. Only some go on to develop major depression. Now, a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests part of the reason may be that people with depression get stuck on bad thoughts because they're unable to turn their attention away.

People who don't recover from negative events seem to keep going over their troubles. "They basically get stuck in a mindset where they relive what happened to them over and over again," says Jutta Joormann, of the University of Miami. She co wrote the new study with Sara Levens and Ian H. Gotlib of Stanford University.

"Even though they think, oh, it's not helpful, I should stop thinking about this, I should get on with my life - they can't stop doing it," she says. She and her colleagues thought people with depression might have a problem with working memory. Working memory isn't just about remembering a shopping list or doing multiplication in your head; it's about what thoughts you keep active in your mind. So, Joormann thought, maybe people who get stuck on negative thoughts have problems turning their mind to a new topic.

Comment: A better answer to depression would be to read Peter A. Levine's book "In An Unspoken Voice." The above is a cheap shot fired by pathological science at the true suffering of normal humans trying to make their way in a psychopathic world.


Heart

Brain, heart and gut minds

vagus nerve innervation

Vagus nerve and it's many connections to our organs highlighs the importance it has on the functioning and well-being of our system.
We have always expressed love and emotion from the heart and intuition from the gut; hence, the expressions heartfelt and gut feeling. Research suggests that they may have scientific explanations.

It seems both heart and gut have minds of their own. Besides communicating with the brain, they might also be helping it develop, reducing depression and increasing the level of the individual's well-being.

The gut mind

On an average, the brain has 100 billion neurons; it is the seat of all our thinking. The gut or the digestive system has close to 500 million nerve cells and 100 million neurons and is almost the size of a cat's brain. Not only does the gut 'talk' with the brain by releasing chemicals which are transported to the brain but also by sending electrical signals via the vagus nerve, one of the longest nerves in the body whose purpose is to relay the information of internal organs to the brain. It starts from the head and ends near the anus.

Comment: Based on breathing exercises that stimulate the vagus nerve, the Éiriú Eolas program is easy to learn, and with few minutes of practice each day can effect the vital balance between brain, heart and gut minds.


Magic Wand

How our focus can silence the noisy world around us

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How can someone with perfectly normal hearing become deaf to the world around them when their mind is on something else? New research funded by the Wellcome Trust suggests that focusing heavily on a task results in the experience of deafness to perfectly audible sounds.

In a study published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, researchers at UCL (University College London) demonstrate for the first time this phenomenon, which they term 'inattentional deafness'.

"Inattentional deafness is a common everyday experience," explains Professor Nilli Lavie from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL. "For example, when engrossed in a good book or even a captivating newspaper article we may fail to hear the train driver's announcement and miss our stop, or if we're texting whilst walking, we may fail to hear a car approaching and attempt to cross the road without looking."

Professor Lavie and her PhD student James Macdonald devised a series of experiments designed to test for inattentional deafness. In these experiments, over a hundred participants performed tasks on a computer involving a series of cross shapes. Some tasks were easy, asking the participants to distinguish a clear colour difference between the cross arms. Others were much more difficult, involving distinguishing subtle length differences between the cross arms.

People

Passing Judgment is Connected to Immature Emotional Nature: Changes in Brain Circuitry Play Role in Moral Sensitivity as People Grow Up

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People's moral responses to similar situations change as they age, according to a new study at the University of Chicago that combined brain scanning, eye-tracking and behavioral measures to understand how the brain responds to morally laden scenarios.

Both preschool children and adults distinguish between damage done either intentionally or accidently when assessing whether a perpetrator had done something wrong. Nonetheless, adults are much less likely than children to think someone should be punished for damaging an object, especially if the action was accidental, said study author Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago and a leading scholar on affective and social neuroscience.

The different responses correlate with the various stages of development, Decety said, as the brain becomes better equipped to make reasoned judgments and integrate an understanding of the mental states of others with the outcome of their actions. Negative emotions alert people to the moral nature of a situation by bringing on discomfort that can precede moral judgment, and such an emotional response is stronger in young children, he explained.

"This is the first study to examine brain and behavior relationships in response to moral and non-moral situations from a neurodevelopmental perspective," wrote Decety in the article, "The Contribution of Emotion and Cognition to Moral Sensitivity: A Neurodevelopmental Study," published in the journal Cerebral Cortex. The study provides strong evidence that moral reasoning involves a complex integration between affective and cognitive processes that gradually changes with age.

For the research, Decety and colleagues studied 127 participants, aged 4 to 36, who were shown short video clips while undergoing an fMRI scan. The team also measured changes in the dilation of the people's pupils as they watched the clips.

Eye 2

How Psychologists Put Us All at Risk by Confusing Categories and Reaching Wrong Conclusions: Is Fear Deficit a Harbinger of Future Psychopaths?

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Patty McCormack from "The Bad Seed"
Psychopaths are charming, but they often get themselves and others in big trouble; their willingness to break social norms and lack of remorse means they are often at risk for crimes and other irresponsible behaviors.

One hypothesis on how psychopathy works is that it has to do with a fear deficit. A new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that children with a particular risk factor for psychopathy don't register fear as quickly as healthy children.


Comment: Risk factor? This term is usually applied in reference to any attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease, illness (mental illness, for example), or injury.

But there is a difference between "mental illness" and psychopathy. Mental illness is what non-psychopaths may or may not have: emotional problems caused by trauma, toxins, abuse, etc. Psychopathy is completely different. Yes, psychopaths may have some apparently useful qualities, but they're incidental to the underlying psychopathy. Yes, they may be charming and good talkers, but that's an act. Yes, they may not kill, but they manipulate and harm others in different ways. It's just the way they are.

And while we are aware of the hesitancy among the psychological community to diagnose young children as psychopaths without resorting to mental gymnastics or looking for ways to "fix" them, considering the above, failing to accurately assert the real nature of psychopathy puts us all at grave risk of continuous exposure to the danger, while our attempts to cure them don't do much than train them how to be better manipulators.

From Review: Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry:
There was the failed experiment at Oak Ridge, in Canada, where psychopathic offenders were treated with LSD and encouraged to "share their feelings", engaging in group therapy where they acted as each other's psychotherapists. The inmates showed remarkable improvement and were released into the world, reformed beings eager to start life anew. At least, that's what the doctors thought. But the therapy had simply taught them to be better manipulators, and it seemed to have gone to their heads. Their recidivism rates ended up being even higher than ordinary psychopaths...As psychopathy expert and author of the Psychopathy Checklist, Bob Hare, says, psychopaths are born psychopaths. You can't treat them.

The hypothesis that psychopaths don't feel or recognize fear dates back to the 1950s, says the study's primary author Patrick D. Sylvers, of the University of Washington. "What happens is you're born without that fear, so when your parents try to socialize you, you don't really respond appropriately because you're not scared." By the same token, if you hurt a peer and they give you a fearful look, "most of us would learn from that and back off," but a child with developing psychopathy would keep tormenting their classmate.

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Religion May Cause Brain Atrophy

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Faith can open your mind but it can also cause your brain to shrink at a different rate, research suggests.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Centre in the US claim to have discovered a correlation between religious practices and changes in the brains of older adults.

The study, published in the open-access science journal, Public Library of Science ONE, asked 268 people aged 58 to 84 about their religious group, spiritual practices and life-changing religious experiences. Changes in the volume of their hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory, were tracked using MRI scans, over two to eight years.

Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again were found to have less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics or those with no religious affiliation. Frequency of worship was not found to have a bearing on results, while participants who said they had undergone a religious experience were found to have more atrophy than those who did not.

Black Cat

Review: Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

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"I've always believed society to be a fundamentally rational thing, but what if it isn't? What if it is built on insanity?"

So asks Jon Ronson in his latest book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. Ronson is probably best known for his book, The Men Who Stare at Goats, which was adapted for the big screen and starred George Clooney. It documented a slightly loony group of American Army men who were convinced they could walk through walls and kill goats by simply glaring at them menacingly (apparently they took the phrase "looking daggers" a tad too literally). He also wrote a book on fundamentalists, extremists and radicals, even tailing David Icke for a spell. For research, of course. Having already spent much of his career peering into the fringe boundaries of normality, The Psychopath Test pushes him further into the sphere of madness and the science that attempts to explain it. The result is entertaining, sometimes informative, yet a mixed-bag that never really answers the questions he set out to tackle.

I'm going to avoid giving a chapter-by-chapter rundown of the book. As I said above, it's an entertaining, and easy, read. I'm not a particularly fast reader but wolfed this one down in three sittings over two days. So if you've the time, cash, and/or inclination, check it out. Rather, I want to focus on what I'll call the good, the bad, and the so-so. Ronson gets a lot of things right. First of all, he's a great writer. The book is peppered with entertaining, funny, and somewhat disturbing accounts of his interviews with people he comes to believe are genuine psychopaths. Pitting a self-described neurotic, over-anxious journalist against some of the world's most dangerous criminals and manipulators is a recipe for a good story, and in this regard, Ronson delivers.

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Artificial Grammar Reveals Inborn Language Sense, JHU Study Shows

Parents know the unparalleled joy and wonder of hearing a beloved child's first words turn quickly into whole sentences and then babbling paragraphs. But how human children acquire language-which is so complex and has so many variations-remains largely a mystery. Fifty years ago, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky proposed an answer: Humans are able to learn language so quickly because some knowledge of grammar is hardwired into our brains. In other words, we know some of the most fundamental things about human language unconsciously at birth, without ever being taught.

Now, in a groundbreaking study, cognitive scientists at The Johns Hopkins University have confirmed a striking prediction of the controversial hypothesis that human beings are born with knowledge of certain syntactical rules that make learning human languages easier.

"This research shows clearly that learners are not blank slates; rather, their inherent biases, or preferences, influence what they will learn. Understanding how language is acquired is really the holy grail in linguistics," said lead author Jennifer Culbertson, who worked as a doctoral student in Johns Hopkins' Krieger School of Arts and Sciences under the guidance of Geraldine Legendre, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science, and Paul Smolensky, a Krieger-Eisenhower Professor in the same department. (Culbertson is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester.)

The study not only provides evidence remarkably consistent with Chomsky's hypothesis but also introduces an interesting new approach to generating and testing other hypotheses aimed at answering some of the biggest questions concerning the language learning process.