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Tue, 03 May 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Hiking in nature is cleansing to the mind, body and soul

While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain... for the better!

Hiking In Nature Can Stop Negative, Obsessive Thoughts

Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Comment: Further reading:


Repeatedly playing video games causes desensitization, diminished moral responses to violence

Rapidly advancing technology has created ever more realistic video games. Images are sharp, settings have depth and detail, and the audio is crisp and authentic. At a glance, it appears real. So real, that research has consistently found that gamers feel guilty committing unjustified acts of violence within the game.

Now, a new University at Buffalo-led study suggests that the moral response produced by the initial exposure to a video game decreases as experience with the game develops.

The findings provide the first experimental evidence that repeatedly playing the same violent game reduces emotional responses -- like guilt -- not only to the original game, but to other violent video games as well.

Yet why this is happening remains a mystery, according to Matthew Grizzard, assistant professor of communication and principal investigator of the study published in current issue of the journal Media Psychology, with co-authors Ron Tamborini and John L. Sherry of Michigan State University and René Weber of the University of California Santa Barbara.

"What's underlying this finding?" asks Grizzard. "Why do games lose their ability to elicit guilt, and why does this seemingly generalize to other, similar games?"

Comment: Further reading:

People 2

The hidden power of listening to your gut feelings

© Daiana Lorenz/Flickr
It's one of the most commonly doled out nuggets of professional advice: "Go with your gut." But it's a very challenging system to consistently implement.

"We spend our workdays in our outer world. We're interacting with our team members and clients. We don't have enough time in our inner world where we can reflect on those experiences and listen to what our gut might have to say," says Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach.

Why is trusting your gut so powerful? Because your gut has been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you've been alive. "Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences," says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College.

Comment: Although this article is geared towards the workplace the concepts can be applied to everyday life as well. For more on intuition and gut instict see:


What do narcissists see when they look into the mirror?

© Unknown
A core characteristic of narcissism is the tendency of people high in this personality trait to view themselves in as positive a light as possible. For women, this may involve trying to bolster their feelings of attractiveness, given the constant message these purveyors of physical attractiveness communicate about the need for women to look beautiful and sexy. For men, the self-focus translates into the need to out-do everyone else and a tendency to exploit others as shown in a large-scale analysis on existing studies conducted by University of Buffalo psychologist Emily Grijalva and colleagues (2015).

If the need for self-enhancement is at the core of narcissism, what is its cause? Do people high on narcissism need to make themselves look as successful as possible to cover up the gnawing hole in their self-esteem? Another extensive analysis of the available literature conducted by Grijalva along with University of Illinois psychologist Luyao Zhang (2016) examined the ability of people high in narcissism to engage in the kind of critical self-scrutiny that can temper an over-inflated sense of one's own importance.

Grijalva and Zhang were particularly interested in "self-insight self-enhancement," which involves comparing the way you rate yourself with the way others rate you. They also wished to examine which features of narcissism would be most subject to a self-enhancement bias. Would people high on narcissism be more likely to emphasize their "agency," or extraversion and arrogance, or their "communal" qualities, such as honesty and agreeableness?

Comment: Further reading: Narcissism epidemic: The societal shift from commitment to the collective to a focus on the individual


The heart as the center of consciousness

During organ transplantation there have been numerous reports of emotions, memories and experiences being transferred along with organ which is been transplanted from donor to the recipient.

Dr. Pearsall, an American cardiologist, has collected the cases of 73 heart transplant patients and 67 other organ transplant recipients and published them in his book, "The Hearts Code" (1). Here is a sample of a case that has been reported:
Claire Sylvia develops desire for chicken nuggets and green peppers.

On May 29, 1988, an American woman named Claire Sylvia received a heart transplant at a hospital in Yale, Connecticut. She was told that her donor was an 18 year-old male from Maine who had just died in a motorcycle accident.

Soon after her operation, Sylvia declared that she felt like drinking beer, something she hadn't particularly been fond of before. Later, she observed an uncontrollable urge to eat chicken nuggets and found herself drawn to visiting the popular chicken restaurant chain, KFC.

She also began craving green peppers which she hadn't particularly liked before. She started behaving in an aggressive and impetuous manner following the surgery. Sylvia also began having recurring dreams about a mystery man named Tim, whom she felt was the organ donor.

She searched for obituaries in newspapers published from Maine and was able to identify the young man whose heart she had received. His name had indeed been Tim. After visiting Tim's family, she discovered that he used to love chicken nuggets, green peppers and beer. These experiences are documented in her book, A Change of Heart (2).
In 1974, the French researchers Gahery and Vigier, working with cats, stimulated the vagus nerve (which carries many of the signals from the heart to the brain) and found that the brain's electrical response was reduced to about half its normal rate when stimulating the vagus nerve (3).

The heart appeared to be sending meaningful messages to the brain that it not only understood, but also obeyed (4). Later, neurophysiologists discovered a neural pathway and mechanism whereby input from the heart to the brain could inhibit or facilitate the brain's electrical activity (5).

Dr. Armour introduced the idea of functional "heart brain." His research revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently refined to qualify as a "little brain" in its own right, due to its independent existence.


Apple Green

Academic pressures on pre-school children are crushing their creativity and enthusiasm for learning

According to a new study out of the University of Virginia, academic pressures of the United States (U.S.) educational initiatives, such as No Child Left Behind, and Common Core, have transformed kindergarten away from the much-needed focus on early social skills, play-based learning and other creative activities, into a rigid, taxing environment with far too much attention placed on academics and direct instruction.

The study's researchers, Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham and Anna Rorem, compared kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010 using two large nationally representative datasets. The aspects analyzed included teachers' expectations, time spent on academic versus non-academic content, classroom organization, and standardized testing. Their assessment revealed that the experience in kindergarten has changed dramatically:
"Kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academic expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten year. They devote more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction and assessment, and substantially less time to art, music, science and child-selected activities." (Study: Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?)
The study by Bassok et. al. uncovered that kindergarten literacy rates increased from 30% in 1998 to 80% in 2010. Of course, it is a beautiful thing when a child learns to read, but are American children being driven to their detriment? The researchers think so. They concluded that kindergarten, which used to be a gentle way to help introduce children to school, now serves more as a gatekeeper, which indoctrinates children into the pressured life of a student.



Choral singing boosts mood, immune function and reduces stress

One hour of this type of singing can improve mood, immune function and more...

Singing in a choir for only one hour can improve mood, reduce stress and even boost immune proteins, a new study finds.

The largest improvements in mood were seen among those suffering with the greatest level of depression and lowest mental wellbeing.

The research involved 193 people whose lives had been touched by cancer and who were members of five different choirs.

Dr Ian Lewis, one of the study's authors, said:
"These are really exciting findings.

We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.

We've long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it's been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing.

It's really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future."

Comment: More benefits of singing with a group:


With the popularity of mindfulness growing - why is everyone so mindless?

On the surface, mindfulness practice seems tailor-made for increasing welfare of its adopters. Drawing upon centuries-old Buddhist and Vedantic rituals, it refers to a set of activities & exercises performed to focus one's mind on experiencing the present, one moment at a time. Mindfulness exercises often involve meditation in some form. The practitioner focuses on a single concept continuously for a period ranging from a few minutes to hours. For instance, the person may simply monitor his or her own breathing or count breaths, paying close attention to each cycle of inhalation and exhalation. Or listen to a soothing sound or recite a chant repeatedly.

Research studies, now numbering in the thousands, have associated mindfulness practice with numerous health benefits, from long-term reductions in anxiety and depression, the management of pain, controlling anger, curbing addictions, empathy, and emotional well-being.

Comment: The shadow side of the McMindfulness craze


Higher heart rate variability equals more wisdom and better judgement, say researchers

The variations in your heartbeat rate may affect your wisdom, according to new research from the University of Waterloo. The study suggests that heart rate variability and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues.

The work by Igor Grossmann, professor of psychology at Waterloo, and colleagues based at the Australian Catholic University, appears in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment.

Comment: Want more wisdom and better judgement? What controls heart rate variability? The vagus nerve does, and you can learn how to stimulate it with the Éiriú Eolas meditation program.

Monkey Wrench

How to reckon with emotion and change your narrative

The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they're usually fiction.

My husband, Steve, and I were having one of those days. That morning, we'd overslept. Charlie couldn't find his backpack, and Ellen had to drag herself out of bed because she'd been up late studying. Then at work I had five back-to-back meetings, and Steve, a pediatrician, was dealing with cold-and-flu season. By dinnertime, we were practically in tears.

Steve opened the refrigerator and sighed. "We have no groceries. Not even lunch meat." I shot back, "I'm doing the best I can. You can shop, too!" "I know," he said in a measured voice. "I do it every week. What's going on?"