Welcome to Sott.net
Mon, 24 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


New research shows mental activity can be consciously controlled

An example of brain activation from the Neurovault database. Red areas are activated by a particular task, blue areas are deactivated.
People who can "see" their brain activity can change it, after just one or two neurofeedback sessions, new research shows.

People in the study were able to quiet activity in the amygdala— an almond-shaped brain region that processes emotions such as fear — after seeing simple visual or auditory cues that corresponded to the activity level there, according to a new study published in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry. The findings reveal the incredible plasticity of the brain, the researchers said.

The new technique could one day be used as an inexpensive treatment for people with anxiety, traumatic stress or other mental health conditions, said study co-author Dr. Talma Hendler, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Tel Aviv Center for Brain Functions in Israel.

"I see it as a very good tool for children and for people who we don't want to give medication," Hendler told Live Science.


How our emotions affect our health

The quality of our emotions determines the instructions our hearts send to our brains
In each moment of every day, a conversation is taking place inside us that's one of the most vital we will ever find ourselves engaged in. It's the silent, often subconscious, and never-ending conversation of emotion-based signals between the heart and the brain. The reason this conversation is so important is that the quality of the emotional signal the heart sends to the brain determines what kind of chemicals are released into our bodies.

When we feel what we would typically call negative emotions (for instance, anger, hate, jealousy, and rage), the heart sends a signal to the brain that mirrors our feelings. Such emotions are irregular and chaotic, and this is precisely what the signals they send to the brain look like.

Comment: Read more about how emotions affect health:


Journaling: Therapeutic enrichment for you & your family

Growing up, I remember my middle school English teacher getting us kids to write down some of the things we did and experiences we had that left an impression on us. She encouraged us to keep this up in the form of a written journal. She told us that one day we would really appreciate being able to look back and relive with fondness each of the coming-of-age milestones that were important to us at the time. Keeping a journal would also push us to ponder how these unique events impacted our lives and help shape us into the adults we became.

I'm sad to say that I didn't listen to my teacher and faithfully take detailed life notes of all the memorable goings on of my teenage years and beyond. I do still have some of my old school notes documenting a few of these cherished memories, which I'm deeply appreciative that my mom saved so that I have them now.

My teacher was right: these written memories mean more to me now than I could ever have imagined. Not simply for purposes of nostalgia, but also as a type of family heirloom that I can pass on to my children, who can then pass it on to their children, and so forth.

How could childhood notes in any way benefit my kin, you might be asking yourself? Well, one of the things I've come to realize is that journaling isn't just about scrawling the minute details of one's personal life across the pages of a private diary in order to keep them under lock and key...

Comment: Read more about writing for better mental and physical health:


Transforming lives by nurturing the growth of empathy

Are We Living in the Age of Empathy?

If you think you're hearing the word "empathy" everywhere, you're right. It's now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it's a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It's the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don't confuse it with the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, "do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes." Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.

Comment: Further reading:


Keeping the confusion going: Triangulating tactics of pathological liars

Do you know someone who engages in telling multiple lies, even when you or someone else has caught them? Do you know someone who seems to manipulate others with his or her lies? If so, this article is for you.

As a therapist working with children and adolescents, I have seen my fair share of lies and juvenile delinquent behaviors which included pathological lies. Although we have all had to tell a "while lie" or two or minimize a situation to keep the peace, pathological liars lie for the simple fact of pleasure, manipulation, or to get what they want. To make matters worse, some pathologically lie for no apparent reason. Sadly, mental health professionals are largely uninformed about this insidious and evil behavior. We lack research and knowledge about pathological lying and have been unable, for centuries, to explain why it happens and how it develops.

As a result, society remains very uninformed about pathological lying and is often shocked when someone close (a family member, friend, co-worker, etc.) begins sharing their lies and untruths.

This article will highlight some of the common behaviors of pathological liars. I will also explain triangulation.

Post-It Note

When you don't like yourself: Learning how to let go of self-hatred

It turns out the fastest way to heal and start caring for ourselves is to help and care about others
Some people have the misfortune to have been born to abusive parents who belittled them and prevented them from developing a healthy self-esteem. Others are born predisposed to view themselves in a negative light because of their physical appearance, a disability, or for no reason anyone, including themselves, knows. Research has consistently supported the notion that it's difficult to be happy without liking oneself. But how can one learn to like oneself when one doesn't?

What parts of ourselves do we dislike?

People filled with self-loathing typically imagine they dislike every part of themselves, but this is rarely, if ever, true. More commonly, if asked what specific parts of themselves they dislike, they're able to provide specific answers: their physical appearance, their inability to excel academically or at a job, or maybe their inability to accomplish their dreams. Yet when presented, for example, a scenario in which they come upon a child trapped under a car at the scene of an accident, that they recoil in horror and would want urgently to do something to help rarely causes them to credit themselves for the humanity such a reaction indicates.

Why do self-loathers so readily overlook the good parts of themselves? The answer in most cases turns out to relate not to the fact that they have negative qualities but to the disproportionate weight they lend them. People who dislike themselves may acknowledge they have positive attributes but any emotional impact they have simply gets blotted out.

Comment: Negative qualities and the narratives attached to them are not the full measure of who we are and we do not need to define ourselves by what those narratives say. No matter how much the negative introject can make it seem like you are worthless or no good, it's important to remember to try and keep things in perspective. Part of the reason why being of service to others can be invaluable for self-worth and self-esteem is because taking an interest in the lives of others helps us to see that we aren't the center of the universe, and neither are our negative qualities.


Mindfulness meditation is great for teen brains too

More and more children are developing anxiety disorders these days. In fact, more than one in four adolescents, specifically between the ages of 13 and 18, are diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. Many are treated with anti-depressant medication and other forms of medication to try and assist them to live a relatively normal childhood. Unfortunately, many of these medications can have negative side effects on young developing minds and dependency issues can easily arise.

Luckily, a team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati set out to find some other treatment methods that focus more on the mind and less on chemical, pharmaceutical solutions.

Other Successful Solutions

A study was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology; the study included 9 participants who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders between the ages of 9 and 16. The types of disorders varied from social and/or separation disorders to having a parent who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Over the course of 12 weeks, each one of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scans while practicing mindfulness based cognitive therapy, including a wide range of therapeutic techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and the ability to pay non-judgmental attention to their lives.

Comment: See also: To learn more about the benefits of meditation visit the Éiriú Eolas Stress Control, Healing and Rejuvenation Program. Éiriú Eolas is the modern revival of an ancient breathing and meditation program.


The psychological benefits of the simple act of planning

The simple act of planning has some psychological and productivity benefits all by itself.
For a long time, I resisted to-do lists. I wanted the flexibility. I felt that if I kept a list, it would tie me down to a particular set of tasks. Gradually, though, I came around. The busier my work life became, the more crucial it was to have some sort of running agenda on hand. Before long, I even started adding some of those items onto my weekly calendar. In other words, I'd reluctantly become a planner.

Looking back, it shouldn't have been so difficult. In fact, there are at least three psychological benefits to the simple act of drawing up a list of top-priority tasks—whether or not you actually accomplish them.

Writing Makes Your Memory's Job Easier

Keeping a list of tasks you need to perform is like taking notes when you're reading a book or listening to a lecture. When you take notes, you need to filter external information, summarize it in your head, and then write it down. Many studies have shown that note taking helps us distill the information we hear and remember it better than we would if we'd just heard or read it.

Writing a to-do list is a similar mental experience. Even if you first spend some time thinking about the tasks you have to do, the act of drawing up a list and prioritizing the items on it forces you to do a little extra work.

Comment: Use the power of check lists!


Why loneliness is painful: Helping humans survive by motivating us to seek connection with others

© Patrik Svensson
Loneliness not only feels nasty, it can also make you depressed, shatter your sleep, even kill you. Yet scientists think loneliness evolved because it was good for us. It still is — sometimes.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that being lonely ruins health. In one recent study, the risk of dying over a two-decade period was 50 percent higher for lonely men and 49 percent higher for lonely women than it was for those who did not experience feelings of isolation. According to some research, loneliness may be worse for longevity than obesity or air pollution.

Yet according to scientists such as John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, loneliness has evolved to protect us. He likens it to hunger: "When you get hungry, it increases your attention to finding food. We think that loneliness is an aversive state that motivates you to attend to social connections.

And just like pangs of hunger, loneliness can feel like real pain — at least inside the brain. When people who had been put in a functional MRI scanning device played a computer game that allowed them to be rejected by other players, the areas of the brain that lit up when they were rejected were the same ones associated with physical pain. The experiment, by UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues, proved that the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that becomes more active when we are in physical pain, also switches on when we experience the pain of social rejection.

That pain of loneliness, Cacioppo argues, could have motivated our ancestors to seek connection with other members of the tribe — and thereby improve their chances of survival and of passing on their genes.

Comment: Humans are social animals. We naturally bond and pair as couples in partnerships and marriage. We live together as families and tribes, and we gather as communities. When we are unable to make this connection our spiritual, mental and physical health suffers. A separation from each other is a separation from our selves and from our very life source.


The curious link between mind & feet: Why walking helps us think

In Vogue's 1969 Christmas issue, Vladimir Nabokov offered some advice for teaching James Joyce's Ulysses: "Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom's and Stephen's intertwining itineraries clearly traced." He drew a charming one himself. Several decades later, a Boston College English professor named Joseph Nugent and his colleagues put together an annotated Google map that shadows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom step by step. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, as well as students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have similarly reconstructed the paths of the London amblers in "Mrs. Dalloway."

Such maps clarify how much these novels depend on a curious link between mind and feet. Joyce and Woolf were writers who transformed the quicksilver of consciousness into paper and ink. To accomplish this, they sent characters on walks about town. As Mrs. Dalloway walks, she does not merely perceive the city around her. Rather, she dips in and out of her past, remolding London into a highly textured mental landscape, "making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh."

Since at least the time of peripatetic Greek philosophers, many other writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing. (In fact, Adam Gopnik wrote about walking in The New Yorker just two weeks ago.) "How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!" Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. "Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow." Thomas DeQuincey has calculated that William Wordsworth—whose poetry is filled with tramps up mountains, through forests, and along public roads—walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, which comes to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from age five.