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Mon, 11 Dec 2017
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Science of the Spirit

Snakes in Suits

New study suggests psychopaths don't make successful hedge fund managers

wall street money
Maybe the secret to success on Wall Street is being nice.

In the world of high finance, it's been an article of faith among some that the only way to succeed - or even survive - is to be ruthless. But a new study in the latest issue of the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin suggests those money makers at the top of the food chain, hedge fund managers, could benefit from being a little less mean. It turns out that people who exhibit what health professionals consider psychopathic traits actually perform worse than their peers over time.

Psychologists define a "psychopath" as someone who, among other things, lacks a conscience - an individual who often acts in a manipulative fashion for personal gain. While such traits aren't the best way to win friends and influence people outside of work, they are seen by the more mercenary as advantageous when it comes to climbing the career ladder or making money.


Your dog can smell your emotional state, and will adopt these feelings as their own

Dogs emotions
© Gary John Norman/Getty
Dog owners swear that their furry best friend is in tune with their emotions. Now it seems this feeling of interspecies connection is real: dogs can smell your emotional state, and adopt your emotions as their own.

Science had already shown that dogs can see and hear the signs of human emotions, says Biagio D'Aniello of the University of Naples "Federico II", Italy. But nobody had studied whether dogs could pick up on olfactory cues from humans.

"The role of the olfactory system has been largely underestimated, maybe because our own species is more focused on the visual system," says D'Aniello. However, dogs' sense of smell is far superior to ours.


Different meditation types sharpen distinct parts of your brain

© Tom Merton/Getty
Better done in company
We are used to hearing that meditation is good for the brain, but now it seems that not just any kind of meditation will do. Just like physical exercise, the kind of improvements you get depends on exactly how you train - and most of us are doing it all wrong.

That the brain changes physically when we learn a new skill, like juggling or playing a musical instrument, has been known for over a decade. Previous studies had suggested that meditation does something similar for parts of the brain involved in focused attention.

Two new studies published in Science Advances suggest that certain kinds of meditation can change social and emotional circuitry, too. The research comes out of the ReSource Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and looked at the effects of three different meditation techniques on the brains and bodies of more than 300 volunteers over 9 months.

Comment: See also: The importance of vagal stimulation for health and well-being


The psychology of sex predators

Harvey and Georgina Weinstein
© ABC News
Harvey and Georgina Weinstein attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon.
Hollywood is in a tailspin over how Harvey Weinstein concealed sexually abusive behavior from friends, colleagues, and perhaps an entire industry for decades. But while the investigation into Weinstein continues, recent research offers clues into why so many stars are prone to exploiting others.

London - The Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal shows no sign of winding down. Just the opposite: police in the United Kingdom are now investigating several allegations involving the Oscar-winning film producer. While Weinstein has "unequivocally denied" allegations of non-consensual sex, and no arrests have been made, more than two dozen women - including the actors Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rose McGowan - have publicly accused him of harassment. The allegations stretch over nearly three decades.

Hollywood is struggling to explain how one of its most visible figures could have gotten away with such behavior for so long. Woody Allen offered an important clue. Despite working with Weinstein on several films, he claims that no one ever brought allegations of abuse to his attention.

"And they wouldn't, because you are not interested in it," Allen told the BBC. "You are interested in making your movie." Others who worked with Weinstein over the years have made similar statements.

Is this the Hollywood equivalent of a police officer's "blue wall of silence," or is there something more clinical at work?

One possible answer may be found in the results of recent psychological research. According to scientists in the United States and Israel, there are certain personality traits - the "dark triad" of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism - that are more commonly associated with sexually abusive behavior.

One intriguing finding from this research, published in 2016 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, is that personality traits associated with a proclivity for harassment may be "specialized psychological adaptations" that allow individuals to exploit "niches" in society. In other words, some sexual predators may seek careers in particular industries that allow them to exploit others.


Scientists discover the mind still works after the body shows no sign of life - meaning they have awareness of their own death

life after death
Some report having seen light at the end of a tunnel, while others claim to have floated above their body, watching as medics save their lives.

But the reality of near-death experiences has always been debated.

Now scientists have discovered that a person's consciousness continues to work after the body has stopped showing signs of life - meaning they have awareness of their own death.

And there is evidence to suggest someone who has died may even hear their own death being announced by medics.

Comment: Scientists with a materialistic mindset are incapable of considering the possibility that consciousness survives death, thus continually strive to find scientific reasons supporting their limited views.

Pocket Knife

The gates of the mind: Openness to experience

© syolacan Getty Images
What does it mean to be "open-minded"? Are some people genuinely more inclusive in their thinking, more expansive in how they process information? Experiments in personality psychology show that open-minded people do indeed process information in different ways and may literally see the world differently from the average person.

The personality trait that best reflects the lay concept of open-mindedness is called "openness to experience," or simply "openness." Open people tend to be intellectually curious, creative and imaginative. They are interested in art and are voracious consumers of music, books and other fruits of culture. They also tend to be politically liberal.


Whales and dolphins have rich 'human-like' societies where they call each other by name, talk in dialects

© Shutterstock/Paul Vinten
Whales and dolphins live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, and talk to each other - much like human societies, new research has revealed (stock image)
Whales and dolphins live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, and talk to each other - much like human societies, new research has revealed.

These intelligent creatures are even more sophisticated than we thought and have regional group dialects, look after friends' children and teach each other how to use tools, the study found.

Researchers found dolphins sometimes use a call associated with an individual when they're not there - suggesting they gossip about each other too.


Looking lives: How our visual memories are made

looking lives
© Rex Features
Another life: Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Zekeria Ebrahimi in The Kite Runner (2007).
Meeting a young Syrian refugee inspires Mark Cousins to imagine how different our defining images can be

We have work lives and love lives, but we also have looking lives. If we're lucky enough to have eyesight, an inner photo album accrues throughout our lives. On its pages are the sunsets we've seen, the dead bodies, and many other defining images - these are the visual shocks and pleasures which help us understand and read emotion.

In a refugee camp in Calais last year, I played football with a young teenage boy from Syria. We had no common language, but we had a laugh as we played. Afterwards I wondered what he had seen in his life so far.

Gift 2

Wellbeing enhanced more by places than objects

© Zac Kaplowitz/GuardianWitness
The research found places that are intensely meaningful invoke a sense of calm, space to think and a feeling of completeness.
Research using brain scans finds people experience feelings of contentment from places more than from objects such as photographs or wedding rings

The poet W.H. Auden is credited with first coining the word "topophilia" to describe a strong emotional pull to a special place.

Now scientific research, using cutting-edge brain imaging, suggests Auden was on to something. According to a study commissioned by the National Trust, people experience intense feelings of wellbeing, contentment and belonging from places that evoke positive memories far more than treasured objects such as photographs or wedding rings.


Researchers discover what happens to the eyes of children when they play outside

Being outdoors has been proven to have a positive effect on our mental health, and just by taking one walk, your brain will experience immediate positive effects. By choosing to walk for 90 minutes in a natural environment, you can experience low levels of rumination or 'brooding,' and more than one study showed that the subgenual prefrontal cortex had less blood flow and reduced neural activity; this is the area of the brain that relates to mental illness.

Psychologists have also found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. Living in big cities exposes people to urban noises and when you couple that with technology, it is disruptive to our daily thinking and is constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.

Comment: Learn more about the healing benefits of being outside, both for children and adults: