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Tue, 27 Sep 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Are lazy people smarter? Study says thinking people are less physically active

© Getty
You may now have another excuse to binge watch television shows and take naps during the day.

A new study reveals that intelligent people live a more sedentary lifestyle, as they rarely become bored and spend more time lost in their own thoughts.

Researchers found that those who fill their day with physical activity are often 'non-thinkers,' and do so to stimulate their minds in order to escape their own thoughts.

In a study published to the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from the Florida Gulf Coast University explained that 'the relationship between cognition and physical activity is an important question for the human experience, and the interaction likely extends across the lifespan.'

Comment: No, don't take that as an excuse to binge watch TV. Ignore the click bait in the first sentence and you'll see that smart people are more sedentary because they probably spend that time being mentally active. Or at least, that might just be the ideal. If thinking people actually do spend more time vegetating in front of the TV, then that's just a sign of how much our society wastes the potential of its brightest.

Life Preserver

Understanding the subtleties of emotional blackmail

Movies love to portray the inner and outer conflict that arises from being blackmailed, especially when someone's life hangs in the balance. There is the villain (the blackmailer), the victim (the target), a demand (what is being asked for), and a threat (what negative thing will happen if the victim refuses to comply). But blackmail does not have to be a life or death threat to be real. It can be more subtle than that.


Here are a couple of examples in everyday life. At school, one child says to another, "If you don't say I'm the coolest, then I'll beat you up." In a neighborhood, it is a neighbor threatening to do property damage if turned into the homeowner's board. At the office, a co-worker who knows some private personal information threatens to use it against another in exchange for a small fee. This type of blackmail has some sort of physical or tangible harm attached.

Emotional Blackmail

This is a bit different. The threat is not tangible, rather it is emotional. Susan Forward and Diane Frazier (Forward and Frazier, 1997), coined the acronym FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt) to describe the three main emotions a blackmailer uses against a victim. Because the threat is not tangible, the villain can easily claim no responsibility. Their logic is that if the victim did not feel fear, obligation, or guilt then they wouldn't be able to blackmail them. The target gives into the demand because they don't want to experience the negative emotion. This is often cyclical and can build in intensity as the threats are effective.


Really? Cursing, being messy and staying up late are signs of a high IQ

© mel0dee/flickr
Stacks of papers, books, and folders cram into every available space on your desk, you glance at the clock to see it's 2:31 a.m., and utter a swear word — you're up late, again, but far too enmeshed in what you're doing to even consider getting sleep yet. Perhaps your friends perceive you as an insomniac slob who swears too much; but they probably haven't heard the good news: Studies suggest these traits are a sign of intelligence.

Popular mythology frequently equates swearing with low intelligence, limited vocabulary, and lower social status. But a study by psychologists Kristin Jay of Marist College and Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and published in the journal Language Sciences dispels those stereotypes.

Fluency in "taboo words," they found, parallels fluency in mundane, neutral words — in fact, a billowing vocabulary of curses and slurs indicates a larger vocabulary overall. Those who swear abundantly generally tend to be more eloquent — "fluency is fluency," the scientists found.

People 2

Do your friends actually like you?

Think of all the people with whom you interact during the course of a day, week, month and year. The many souls with whom you might exchange a greeting or give a warm embrace; engage in chitchat or have a deeper conversation. All those who, by some accident of fate, inhabit your world. And then ask yourself who among them are your friends — your true friends. Recent research indicates that only about half of perceived friendships are mutual. That is, someone you think is your friend might not be so keen on you. Or, vice versa, as when someone you feel you hardly know claims you as a bestie.

It's a startling finding that has prompted much discussion among psychologists, neuroscientists, organizational behavior experts, sociologists and philosophers. Some blame human beings' basic optimism, if not egocentrism, for the disconnect between perceived and actual friendships. Others point to a misunderstanding of the very notion of friendship in an age when "friend" is used as a verb, and social inclusion and exclusion are as easy as a swipe or a tap on a smartphone screen. It's a concern because the authenticity of one's relationships has an enormous impact on one's health and well-being.

"People don't like to hear that the people they think of as friends don't name them as friends," said Alex Pentland, a computational social science researcher at M.I.T. and co-author of a recent study published in the journal PLOS One titled "Are You Your Friends' Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change."

Comment: Indeed, our own mental health is strongly coupled to the quality of our human relationships.


Major depression now believed to be caused by abnormalities in immune cells of the brain

Major depression, now believed to be caused by abnormalities in immune cells of the brain, may revolutionize next-generation psychiatric medication treatment, according to Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers.

"Microglia" cells in the brain, acting as first and main form of active immune defense of central nervous system, may be a key to causing depression. Latest theory opens door to development of a new generation of anti-depressant medications.

Major depression, which afflicts one in six people at some point in their life, is the leading global cause of disability - surpassing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and HIV/AIDS combined.

In a groundbreaking theoretical review paper published in the peer-reviewed journal, Trends in Neurosciences, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggest that "progress in the understanding of the biology of depression has been slow," requiring expanding beyond the "abnormalities in the functioning of neurons." The contribution of other brain cells—often neglected by researchers—may be more relevant in causing depression, according to psychobiology Prof. Raz Yirmiya, director of the Hebrew University's Laboratory for PsychoNeuroImmunology, and senior author of the journal's paper, titled "Depression as a microglial disease."

Comment: Depression is occurring at record levels in the human population, as is the distribution of antidepressants. There are a variety of natural methods of mitigating the effects of depression, including dietary changes and supplementation. It can also be helpful to see depression as a response to a negative environment.


Emotional granularity: The value of fine-tuning your feelings

When you heard about the shooting in Orlando, were you outraged, crushed, or sad? When you saw how Donald Trump made it all about him, were you miffed, appalled, or mad? These answers matter for your well-being because, as an increasing body of research is finding, it's better to be maudlin, morose, or melancholy rather than to just "feel bad."

If you have "finely tuned feelings," writes psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett in the New York Times, you're exhibiting "emotional granularity," defined in a review as the "adaptive value of putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity." In experiments, people high in granularity use a range of adjectives in reporting their experiments, while also describing the intensity of things like anger, embarrassment, guilt, and regret. People low in granularity will use angry, sad, or afraid to capture unpleasant things and excited, happy, or calm to describe pleasant things. The benefits of granularity go beyond being well-spoken, Barrett says: The greater your granularity, the "more precisely" you can experience your self and your world.

Comment: The following article can boost your emotional vocabulary:

10 extremely precise words for emotions you never knew you had


Could brain scans be used in forensic psychiatric examinations of diminished responsibility of a psychopath?

© Radboud University
A strong focus on reward combined with a lack of self-control appears to be linked to the tendency to commit an offence. Brain scans show that this combination occurs in psychopathic criminals, say researchers from Nijmegen in an article in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Many criminal offenders display psychopathic traits, such as antisocial and impulsive behaviour. And yet some individuals with psychopathic traits do not commit offences for which they are convicted.

As with any other form of behaviour, psychopathic behaviour has a neurobiological basis.

Researchers from the Donders Institute and the Department of Psychiatry at Radboudumc wanted to find out whether the way a psychopath's brain works is visibly different from that of a non-psychopath. And whether there are differences between the brains of criminal and non-criminal psychopaths.

Reward centre more strongly activated

Dirk Geurts, researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at Radboudumc: "We carried out tests on 14 convicted psychopathic individuals, and 20 non-criminal individuals, half of whom had a high score on the psychopathy scale. The participants performed tests while their brain activity was measured in an MRI scanner.

We saw that the reward centre in the brains of people with many psychopathic traits (both criminal and non-criminal) were more strongly activated than those in people without psychopathic traits. It has already been proved that the brains of non-criminal individuals with psychopathic traits are triggered by the expectation of reward. This research shows that this is also the case for criminal individuals with psychopathic traits."


Countering distraction: How to develop laser-like mental focus

Even the best of us get distracted, so find out how to develop laser-like mental focus.

People who are highly creative are also very easily distracted.

One of the most famous examples was the French writer Marcel Proust, who lined the bedroom where he wrote with cork and used ear-stoppers to help him concentrate.

So, if you find it hard to focus you are in good company, don't worry.

Try these science-backed steps for a laser-like mental focus:

1. Choose only one thing to do

Our conscious attention is not really designed for doing more than one thing at a time.

First and foremost, then: choose just one thing to do.

This is easy to say, harder to follow through on.

Often there is a larger task which is chunked down into smaller tasks.

Comment: More techniques to help you improve your concentration and productivity:


Is minimalist living the key to happiness?

A few years ago my family of four packed up our household and moved across the country. We made the drive in our car while our belongings were hauled in a moving truck. We arrived to our new house with little more than some clothes in our suitcases, the kids' favorite toys, and whatever necessities (some dishes, our coffee maker) we could fit in the trunk. Soon we found out that our moving truck was running late. A few days turned into what was ultimately more than 4 weeks as our belongings toured the country in a bizarre series of missteps on the part of the moving company. You might think this sounds extremely inconvenient, and of course in many ways it was; however, as a family we quickly became accustomed to having less. Now, when I think back about that month without our things, I think of it fondly, almost longingly.

What Brings Joy?

Marie Kondo has built an empire out of minimalism—her primary rule is to only keep material things that "spark joy" in the owner. I can tell you that after a week or so in our near-empty new house, it was difficult to even remember what we'd packed in that truck. I sometimes felt a pang for a particular book or record but the moment would pass. And suddenly life was about noticing moments, something I never seemed to do in our house full of things. So many things! Did we really need any of it?

Comment: Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities and Our Health


10 extremely precise words for emotions you never knew you had

In recent years, neuroscience has introduced a new way of thinking about our emotions. The scientists behind the latest brain-imaging studies say they can now pinpoint with precision where these feelings are located within our heads. In 2013, for instance, a team of psychologists published a study in which they claimed that they had found neural correlates for nine very distinct human emotions: anger, disgust, envy, fear, happiness, lust, pride, sadness, and shame.

This is an intriguing trend for academics like Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. "It's this idea that what we mean by 'emotion' has evolved," Smith tells Science of Us. "It's now a physical thing — you can see a location of it in the brain." And yet, of course, that's not all an emotion is; calling the amygdala the "fear center" of the brain offers little help in understanding what it means to be afraid.

It's exactly that — the subjective experience of emotions — that Smith explores in her charming new book, The Book of Human Emotions. It's a roundup of 154 words from around the world that you could call an exploration of "emotional granularity," as it provides language for some very specific emotions you likely never knew you had. "It's a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming," she said. "All sorts of stuff that's swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable," once you've pinned the feeling down and named it.