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Sun, 26 Mar 2017
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Science of the Spirit

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Extreme agreeing: The unexpected way to win an argument

Don't just contradict them — try a more radical approach. Extreme agreeing could be the answer to getting people to change their minds, psychological research suggests.

The natural reaction when arguing with someone is to contradict them. However, showing people a very extreme version of their own deeply held opinions can make them think again.

It seems that the absurdity of extreme agreeing helps to foster a rethink.


Addressing memory loss with music & meditation

Meditation training programs can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. The effects are even more pronounced with music. In a recent study of adults with early memory loss, a West Virginia University research team lead by Dr. Kim Innes found that practice of a simple meditation or music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.

Published research has demonstrated that the practice of regular meditation can increase brain density, boost connections between neurons, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, provide clarity of thought, and increase positive mood endorphins. Other published studies have shown meditation can improve physical functioning, decrease chronic disease risks, and enhance overall quality of life.

In this randomized controlled trial, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer's disease, were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 12 weeks. As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).

Comment: Listening to music enhances activity of genes involved in learning and memory while down-regulating genes associated with neurodegeneration


How Does Personality Affect Your Level of Happiness?

According to a new study, the relationship between happiness and personality is more complex than we thought.

Extraverts are happier, and so are the emotionally stable, personality researchers tell us. It also pays to be more open to new experiences, more agreeable, and more conscientious. What does that mean for the rest of us—the introverts, the neurotics, the disorganized?

You may recognize these personality dimensions as part of the Big Five, the traits that researchers are often referring to when they talk about personality. According to a 2008 review, the Big Five explain anywhere from 39 to 63 percent of the variation in well-being between people.

That's enough to be discouraging, if you don't fall into one of the "beneficial" categories. But don't lose heart yet, the authors of a new study say. Each Big Five domain can be divided into two "aspects"—enthusiasm and assertiveness rather than simply "extraversion," for example—and, it turns out, one of each pair is more predictive of well-being than the other.

Comment: Further reading:


New study links brain cortex shape to personality traits

© AFP/Ernesto Benavides
Personality traits such as moodiness or open-mindedness are linked to the shape of one's brain, a study said Wednesday.

Researchers said they found a striking correlation between structural brain differences and five main personality types.

"The shape of our brain can itself provide surprising clues about how we behave -- and our risk of developing mental health disorders," said a statement from the University of Cambridge, which took part in the study.

Psychologists have previously developed a "Big Five" model of main personality types: neuroticism (how moody a person is), extraversion (how enthusiastic), open-mindedness, agreeableness (a measure of altruism) and conscientiousness (a measure of self control).

Using brain scans from over 500 people aged 22 to 36, the new study looked at differences in the cortex -- the wrinkly outer layer of the brain also known as grey matter. Specifically it focussed on combinations of thickness, surface area, and the number of folds in different people.


New study shows psychopaths have lower IQs

© Off Guardian
It's long been believed that psychopaths possess the gift of brains. But new research suggests that this commonly-held belief about psychopaths might be wrong. Although psychopaths are often portrayed as preternaturally intelligent (especially in fiction), this may not actually be the case — a finding which drastically alters the image we've held for so many years.

In truth, over the years, the findings of the relationship between intelligence and psychopathy have been inconsistent; still, though, the stereotype persisted. Why? Because much of the research conducted on the matter was biased from the get-go, mainly focusing on people who were well-educated and from the upper and middle class. These kinds of samples are not necessarily representative of the general population.

The current study — authored by Olga Sanchez de Ribera, Nicholas Kavish, and Brian Boutwell at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory — was a meta-analysis of 97 previous studies involving over 9,000 participants in total. They found one small but interesting correlation: Those who scored higher for psychopathic traits often scored lower on measures of IQ. To further debunk the myth that psychopaths are smarter than most of us is the fact that there may be more variation in intelligence than we ever knew among psychopaths, who are sometimes divided into "primary" and "secondary" based on how inhibited they are.


The mysteries of hypnosis: Magic time?

For a few years I've had a book sitting on my shelf called If This Be Magic: The Forgotten Power of Hypnotism, by Guy Lyon Playfair. Originally published in 1985, it was reissued by White Crow Books in 2011, and I probably bought it around that time. But somehow I never quite got around to reading it, possibly because I was a little put off by the prospect of plowing through a fairly long, rather dense book on hypnotism.

Recently, however, I did pick up the book at last, and I found it to be one of the more intriguing items in my parapsychological library. The subtitle notwithstanding, it's not really all about hypnotism. Perhaps a more accurate subtitle would be "The Forgotten Power of the Unconscious Mind." The book concerns itself with the still-unknown extent of psi abilities and their mediation by the right hemisphere of the brain — or, more accurately, the mental states loosely associated with the right cerebral hemisphere.

If This Be Magic does begin with a discussion of hypnotism and the related practice of mesmerism, tracing work in this area from its beginnings to modern times. Along the way, we learn that the (logical) left hemisphere of the brain seems to inhibit hypnotism, while the (intuitive) right hemisphere readily accepts it. Dr. David Pederson, president of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis, puts it succinctly: "When we hypnotize a patient, what we are doing is altering their mode of consciousness to the right hemisphere by inhibition of the left."


Emotional intelligence: How smart people handle difficult people

© firstsun.com
Difficult people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people's buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife, and worst of all stress.

Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus—an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small "arms" that brain cells use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. Stress is a formidable threat to your success—when stress gets out of control, your brain and your performance suffer.

Most sources of stress at work are easy to identify. If your non-profit is working to land a grant that your organization needs to function, you're bound to feel stress and likely know how to manage it. It's the unexpected sources of stress that take you by surprise and harm you the most.

Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions—the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with difficult people—caused subjects' brains to have a massive stress response. Whether it's negativity, cruelty, the victim syndrome, or just plain craziness, difficult people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs.


7 Unconventional Signs You Are A Really Creative Person

Being sarcastic, ignoring deadlines and these five other unusual things are all linked to higher creativity.

Comment: See also: Everyone is born creative, but it is educated out of us at school


Is Neoliberalism creating an epidemic of mental illness? Wrenching society apart

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children's mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

© unknown

Better Earth

Making it a habit to be a grateful human being

How You Can Tell if Someone is Grateful

I'm terrible at gratitude.

How bad am I? I'm so bad at gratitude that most days, I don't notice the sunlight on the leaves of the Berkeley oaks as I ride my bike down the street. I forget to be thankful for the guy who hand-brews that delicious cup of coffee I drink mid-way through every weekday morning. I don't even know the dude's name!

I usually take for granted that I have legs to walk on, eyes to see with, arms I can use to hug my son. I forget my son! Well, I don't actually forget about him, at least as a physical presence; I generally remember to pick him up from school and feed him dinner. But as I face the quotidian slings and arrows of parenthood, I forget all the time how much he's changed my life for the better.

Gratitude (and its sibling, appreciation) is the mental tool we use to remind ourselves of the good stuff. It's a lens that helps us to see the things that don't make it onto our lists of problems to be solved. It's a spotlight that we shine on the people who give us the good things in life. It's a bright red paintbrush we apply to otherwise-invisible blessings, like clean streets or health or enough food to eat.

Comment: See also: Can't keep your New Year's resolutions? Try being kind to yourself