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Tue, 25 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Melancholy melodies trigger emotional response in empathetic listeners

© Bina80
Have you ever felt particularly moved by a melancholy melody? Recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that it just might be a sign of your extraordinary empathy.

Finnish researchers conducted a quirky sort of experiment with 102 volunteers. They had them listen to an unfamiliar piece of sad instrumental music and then evaluated their emotional responses in different ways, including measuring the variation between heartbeats. The researchers categorized three broad types of response — a relaxed, peaceful sadness; an anxious, nervous sadness; and an intense, almost transcendental sadness. They also discovered a pattern: Those who had higher levels of empathy were more likely to experience the intense type of sadness, while there were no clear relationship with the other types.

"It has previously been known that people experience paradoxical pleasure when engaging with tragic art, but this seems to be more pronounced in those who have a heightened ability to engage with other people's emotions,"said the study's lead author Dr. Tuomas Eerola, currently a professor of music cognition at Durham University in England, in a statement. "Conversely, people with low empathy do not report feeling moved after listening to sad music."

Eerola and his colleagues took pains to eliminate any other causes for the volunteers' reactions by measuring their baseline heartbeats, blood pressure, and other factors that could influence their heart's reaction to the music.

"By using unfamiliar, instrumental sad music in our experiment, we were able to rule out most other possible sources of emotion such as specific memories and lyrics." explained study co-author Jonna Vuoskoski from the University of Oxford. "Thus, participants' emotional responses must have been brought about by the music itself."

Comment: See also: Musical preferences linked to cognitive processes


Entitlement: The personality trait that leads to feelings of chronic disappointment

This personality trait is on the rise among the younger generation.

The personality trait of entitlement can lead to chronic disappointment, psychologists have concluded.

Entitlement is believing you are better than others and deserve more than them.

Unfortunately people who feel entitled often enter a spiral of habitual behavior that is toxic.

From anger they tend to lash out at others, blaming them.

At the same time they continue to tell themselves that they are special.


Evidence rebuts Chomsky's theory of language learning

Much of Noam Chomsky's revolution in linguistics—including its account of the way we learn languages—is being overturned

© Owen Gildersleeve
The idea that we have brains hardwired with a mental template for learning grammar—famously espoused by Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—has dominated linguistics for almost half a century. Recently, though, cognitive scientists and linguists have abandoned Chomsky's "universal grammar" theory in droves because of new research examining many different languages—and the way young children learn to understand and speak the tongues of their communities. That work fails to support Chomsky's assertions.

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child's first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique hu­­­man ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky's theory for guidance.

This conclusion is important because the study of language plays a central role in diverse disciplines—from poetry to artificial intelligence to linguistics itself; misguided methods lead to questionable results. Further, language is used by humans in ways no animal can match; if you understand what language is, you comprehend a little bit more about human nature.

Comment: Related articles:


How morality changes in a foreign language

Fascinating ethical shifts come with thinking in a different language

© Matt Kenyon / Getty Images
What defines who we are? Our habits? Our aesthetic tastes? Our memories? If pressed, I would answer that if there is any part of me that sits at my core, that is an essential part of who I am, then surely it must be my moral center, my deep-seated sense of right and wrong.

And yet, like many other people who speak more than one language, I often have the sense that I'm a slightly different person in each of my languages—more assertive in English, more relaxed in French, more sentimental in Czech. Is it possible that, along with these differences, my moral compass also points in somewhat different directions depending on the language I'm using at the time?

Psychologists who study moral judgments have become very interested in this question. Several recent studies have focused on how people think about ethics in a non-native language—as might take place, for example, among a group of delegates at the United Nations using a lingua franca to hash out a resolution. The findings suggest that when people are confronted with moral dilemmas, they do indeed respond differently when considering them in a foreign language than when using their native tongue.

Comment: See also:


Sharing stories: A conduit to learning that helps us connect to other people's joy, pain, and life experiences

Have you shared a well-told story with a teen or grandchild lately? The result could be transformative for both of you!

Stories help us see the world in new and different ways, and move us toward action. At their most basic level, stories connect people's brains in ways that help them co-create new stories— stories that transform individuals and society over time. Stories touch us because they allow us to connect to other people's joy, pain, and varied life experiences.

Neuroscience helps explain why storytelling stimulates rich inner learning and what we might learn from stories of people, young and old. Although stories are unscientific, often imprecise narratives of human thought, they help organize and integrate the neural networks of the brain (Oatley, 1992). A well-told story contains emotions, thoughts, conflicts and resolutions. Louis Cozolino, a clinical psychologist who applies neuroscience to how humans develop secure relationships, claims that stories are critical to brain development and learning (Cozolino, 2013).


Hurricanes are getting worse, but experience, gender, politics determines what you believe

© www.wisegeek.com
Category 5 Hurricane
Princeton University-led research found that people's view of future storm threat is based on their hurricane experience, gender and political affiliation, despite ample evidence that Atlantic hurricanes are getting stronger. This could affect how policymakers and scientists communicate the increasing deadliness of hurricanes as a result of climate change. The figure above shows the wind speed of the latest hurricane landfall (left) on the U.S. Gulf Coast by county up to 2012, with red indicating the strongest winds. The data on the right show for the same area, by county, public agreement with the statement that storms have been strengthening in recent years, which was posed during a 2012 survey. Blue indicates the strongest agreement, while red equals the least agreement.

© Ning Lin
Objective measurements of storm intensity show that North Atlantic hurricanes have grown more destructive in recent decades. But coastal residents' views on the matter depend less on scientific fact and more on their gender, belief in climate change and recent experience with hurricanes, according to a new study by researchers at Princeton University, Auburn University-Montgomery, the Louisiana State University and Texas A&M University.

The researchers plumbed data from a survey of Gulf Coast residents and found that the severity of the most recent storm a person weathered tended to play the largest role in determining whether they believed storms were getting worse over time, according to the study published in the International Journal of Climatology. The survey was conducted in 2012 before Hurricane Sandy, the second-most expensive hurricane in history, caused $68 billion in damage.

Comment: "Tapping into the state of current perceptions and what drives them..." "Public opinion can make or break policies..." So there appears to be a 'science' to public relations regarding climate change and risk preparedness. This is the edge of manipulation "for your own good." On the one hand, it is motivating the public through their established perceptions, versus the truth. On the other hand, it is reinforcing those perceptions every time this is done. The public is mentally lazy. What is the problem with real and objective science?


Fascinating facts about dreams

There aren't many things that fascinate, frighten, sadden, intrigue, confuse, or enlighten us more than dreams. While science seems stumped about dreams, artists are inspired, creating countless books, movies, poems, paintings, dances and plays about dreams in an effort to understand more about this mysterious unconscious existence we enter when we sleep.

More than 100 years after Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams, we still aren't exactly sure what a dream really is. Science tells us that our sensory abilities (like vision, hearing, etc.) reside in various areas of the neocortex of our brains, and that during sleep these various areas fire randomly, producing illusions that seem disjointed and enigmatic. (In other words, dream-like.) Freud theorized that dreams were manifestations of our deepest, sometimes darkest desires. Still others have posited that dreams are sort of virtual simulations in which we rehearse threatening situations in case they happen to us in real life (and in fact some dream studies have shown that 70% of dreams involve threats of some kind).

Comment: More fascinating research on dreams:

People 2

Practical ways to boost empathy

What if you had no friends?

You would have no one to turn to and cry with, laugh with, share secrets with, go hungry together with, or just be plain and silly you with. There would be a void and empty hollow where a familiar and cherished person should be. As lonely as it looks, there wouldn't be anyone to empathize with and comfort you in that sadness.

Whenever we go through trials and challenges in life, there will always be people we turn to for help. Depending on what we're going through, we crave for people to understand because they've either gone through the same problem before or are currently going through it as well.


Children's mental health issues are helped by simplifying their lives

© Tracey Gillet
When my Dad was growing up he had one jumper each winter. One. Total.

He remembers how vigilantly he cared for his jumper. If the elbows got holes in them my Grandma patched them back together. If he lost his jumper he'd recount his steps to find it again. He guarded it like the precious gift it was.

He had everything he needed and not a lot more. The only rule was to be home by dinner time. My Grandma rarely knew exactly where her kids were.
They were off building forts, making bows and arrows, collecting bruises and bloody knees and having the time of their lives. They were immersed in childhood.
But the world has moved on since then. We've become more sophisticated. And entered a unique period in which, rather than struggling to provide enough parents are unable to resist providing too much. In doing so, we're unknowingly creating an environment in which mental health issues flourish.

Comment: Further reading


Productive confusion can be good for you

© Flickr/Tactical Technology, CC BY-SA
Confusion is a common aspect of our lives but it can be useful and perhaps even necessary, particularly when we are trying to learn something.

Confusion is typically experienced when we are confronted with new information. It is particularly likely to happen when the information we encounter is complex, counter-intuitive or unlike anything we've experienced before.

When this happens it can be difficult to reconcile the new incoming information with what we already know.

For example, we might find a maths problem confusing because we don't know what the mathematical symbols mean or have difficulty with calculations.

Confusion occurs because the prior knowledge we have leaves us ill-equipped to deal with new information.