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Mon, 25 Jul 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

Red Flag

Which one of your friends is a psychopath?

Anthony Hopkins playing the psychopath Hannibal Lecter in the film Silence of the Lambs
One in 100 of your connections on Facebook could match the cold and calculating class of personality, an expert tells Sheena Hastings

It's nearly a quarter of a century since Kerry Daynes began working with psychopaths. Her first job, at the age of 21, was as an assistant psychologist in a maximum security prison with men who had either raped or murdered women. She has worked with some of the country's most notorious psychopathic criminals and treated mentally disordered offenders in medium-secure units as well as high-risk individuals in the community.

Today, she has broadened out her work to a more mainstream caseload, but for many years she focused on the behaviour of some of society's worst, most violent offenders. One thing she learnt is that not all killers are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are killers.

Daynes, who's based in Cheshire and studied at both Leicester and Sheffield universities, says that while around 15-20 per cent of the prison population are psychopaths, it's thought that 2 to 3 per cent of the general population display some psychopathic tendencies. While they may not have the full complement of traits present in a Fred West or Dennis Nilsen-style serial killer as she and co-author Jessica Fellowes say in their book Is There A Psycho In Your Life?, these characters can wreak havoc in the lives of others.


Dead reckoning: Charting a new course by challenging the stories we tell ourselves

When you reckon with emotion, you can change your narrative.
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?"

I knew exactly what was going on: I had turned his comment into a story about how I'm a disorganized, unreliable partner and mother. I apologized and started my next sentence with the phrase that's become a lifesaver in my marriage, parenting and professional life:"The story I'm making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up."

Steve said, "No, I was going to shop yesterday, but I didn't have time. I'm not blaming you. I'm hungry."

Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we're in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn't have to be based on any real information. One dismissive glance from a coworker can instantly turn into I knew she didn't like me. I responded to Steve so defensively because when I'm in doubt, the "I'm not enough" explanation is often the first thing I grab. It's like my comfy jeans—may not be flattering, but familiar.

Our stories are also about self-protection. I told myself Steve was blaming me so I could be mad instead of admitting that I was vulnerable or afraid of feeling inadequate. I could disengage from the tougher stuff. That's what human beings tend to do: When we're under threat, we run. If we feel exposed or hurt, we find someone to blame, or blame ourselves before anyone else can, or pretend we don't care.

But this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again. But in my research on shame and vulnerability, I've also learned a lot about resilience. For my book Rising Strong, I spent time with many amazing people—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples—who are skilled at recovering from setbacks, and they have one common characteristic: They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them. The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions.


Deeply intuitive people do things differently

Steve Jobs once said that intuition is more powerful than intellect. As it turns out, Jobs was onto something, and the scientific community backs him up. It seems that we've been giving intuition far too little respect.
"Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next." - Jonas Salk
In a Salk Institute study, participants were asked to play a card game where they pulled cards from two different decks. The decks were rigged so that one would "win" more often than the other, but the participants didn't know that—at least, not overtly. It took about 50 cards for participants to consciously realize that the decks were different and about 80 to figure out what that difference was. However, what was really interesting was that it only took about 10 cards for their palms to start sweating slightly every time they reached for a card from the "losing" deck. It was about that same time that they started subconsciously favoring the "winning" deck.

Comment: The science of intuition: How to measure 'hunches' and 'gut feelings'

2 + 2 = 4

Researchers develop equation to predict happiness

A new equation, showing how our happiness depends not only on what happens to us but also how this compares to other people, has been developed by UCL researchers funded by Wellcome. The team developed an equation to predict happiness in 2014, highlighting the importance of expectations, and the new updated equation also takes into account other people's fortunes.

The study, published in Nature Communications, found that inequality reduced happiness on average. This was true whether people were doing better or worse than another person they had just met. The subjects played gambles to try to win money and saw whether another person won or lost the same gambles. On average, when someone won a gamble they were happier when their partner also won the same gamble compared to when their partner lost. This difference could be attributed to guilt. Similarly, when people lost a gamble they were happier when their partner also lost compared to when their partner won, a difference that could be attributed to envy.

Comment: See also:

Light Sabers

How does reverse psychology work?

© Credit: Anneka | Shutterstock.com
There's good news for frustrated parents trying to get their kids to eat their vegetables (or go to sleep, or clean their rooms): Science shows that using reverse psychology can, indeed, work.

Reverse psychology is part of a phenomenon of psychology called "reactance," said Jeff Greenberg, a professor of social psychology at the University of Arizona.

The idea of reactance is that people are deeply motivated to protect their freedoms, Greenberg said. When people feel that their freedom is threatened — for example, they think someone is taking away their ability to make their own choices — they react against that threat, he said. Thus, they may feel angry or defensive and try to reverse the threat, he said.

Comment: Further reading:


Dr. Gabor Maté: Addiction is a response to childhood suffering

The Fix Q&A with Dr. Gabor Maté on addiction, the holocaust, the "disease-prone personality" and the pathology of positive thinking.

A Hungarian-born Canadian physician, Dr. Gabor Maté specializes in the study and treatment of addiction and trauma. He is well known for his firmly held belief in the connection between mind and body health. Dr. Maté's bestselling books include the award-winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories and his own insights to present a broad perspective.

For over a decade, Dr. Maté worked in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by drug addiction, mental illness and HIV, including a stint at North America's only supervised injection site. Beyond his work with addicts, he has over 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience. Dr. Maté regularly speaks to health professionals and lay audiences across North America. He has received the Hubert Evans Prize for Literary Non-Fiction and the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award from Mothers Against Teen Violence.


Deep reading: Synchronize the brain, enhance empathy and improve your writing ability

A study published in the International Journal of Business Administration in May, 2016, found that what students read in college directly effects the level of writing they achieve. In fact, researchers found that reading content and frequency may exert more significant impacts on students' writing ability than writing instruction and writing frequency. Students who read academic journals, literary fiction, or general nonfiction wrote with greater syntactic sophistication (more complex sentences) than those who read genre fiction (mysteries, fantasy, or science fiction) or exclusively web-based aggregators like Reddit, Tumblr, and BuzzFeed. The highest scores went to those who read academic journals; the lowest scores went to those who relied solely on web-based content.

The Difference Between Deep And Light Reading

Recent research also revealed that "deep reading"—defined as reading that is slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity—is distinctive from light reading—little more than the decoding of words. Deep reading occurs when the language is rich in detail, allusion, and metaphor, and taps into the same brain regions that would activate if the reader were experiencing the event. Deep reading is great exercise for the brain and has been shown to increase empathy, as the reader dives deeper and adds reflection, analysis, and personal subtext to what is being read. It also offers writers a way to appreciate all the qualities that make novels fascinating and meaningful—and to tap into his ability to write on a deeper level.

Comment: Further reading:


British Egyptologist remembers her past life with Seti I

Dorothy Eady
Have you ever experienced a déjà vu? If so, I would like you to imagine how odd it would feel if you could clearly remember things that happened thousands of years before you were born.

That is exactly what happened to Dorothy Louise Eady, a British Egyptologist who could vividly recollect her past life.

This unusual claim has been regarded with a lot of skepticism, but it is a fact that she had the knowledge nobody else did about the period of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt.

Her contributions to Egyptology are enormous, and yet a veil of mystery surrounds this intriguing woman.

Magic Hat

Civil servant missing most of his brain, still conscious: Your brain is not your mind!

© Reuters/ Neil Hall
Which bit causes consciousness?

Comment: This article starts out well, with a genuinely puzzling piece of data that throws into question all our theories of the nature of consciousness. But then it proceeds to offer yet another nonsensical theory. The first step towards a real theory is not that difficult: your brain is not your mind!

Not much is definitively proven about consciousness, the awareness of one's existence and surroundings, other than that its somehow linked to the brain. But theories as to how, exactly, grey matter generates consciousness are challenged when a fully-conscious man is found to be missing most of his brain.

Several years ago, a 44-year-old Frenchman went to the hospital complaining of mild weakness in his left leg. It was discovered then that his skull was filled largely by fluid, leaving just a thin perimeter of actual brain tissue.

And yet the man was a married father of two and a civil servant with an IQ of 75, below-average in his intelligence but not mentally disabled.


'Helicopter parenting' harms child success, study finds

© Thinkstock
Parents who are too involved in their children's lives as they prepare to enter college could be inadvertently hampering their transition into adulthood, causing them to become depressed and experience anxiety during this crucial period, according to a newly-published study.

While it is important for mom and dad to help out as young adults prepare to leave home for the first time, intervening too much in decision making and becoming helicopter parents could have serious mental health implications, researchers from Florida State University reported in a paper now available online and scheduled to be published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

"Helicopter parents are parents who are overly involved," FSU doctoral candidate Kayla Reed, who co-authored the new study along with assistant family and child sciences professor Mallory Lucier-Greer and others, explained in a statement. "They mean everything with good intentions, but it often goes beyond supportive to intervening in the decisions of emerging adults."

Comment: Further reading: