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Thu, 23 May 2019
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Should you listen to music while doing intellectual work? It depends

girl with headphones

People more prone to boredom performed better without background music
Given how many of us listen to music while studying or doing other cerebral work, you'd think psychology would have a set of clear answers as to whether the practice is likely to help or hinder performance. In fact, the research literature is rather a mess (not that that has deterred some enterprising individuals from making bold claims).

There's the largely discredited "Mozart Effect" - the idea that listening to classical music can boost subsequent IQ, except that when first documented in the 90s the effect was on spatial reasoning specifically, not general IQ. Also, since then the finding has not replicated, or it has proven weak and is probably explained as a simple effect of music on mood or arousal on performance. And anyway, that's about listening to music and then doing mental tasks, rather than both simultaneously. Other research on listening to music while we do mental work has suggested it can be distracting (known as the "irrelevant sound effect"), especially if we're doing mental arithmetic or anything that involves holding information in the correct order in short-term memory.

Now, in the hope of injecting more clarity and realism into the literature, Manuel Gonzalez and John Aiello have tested the common-sense idea that the effects of background music on mental task performance will depend on three things: the nature of the music, the nature of the task, and the personality of the person. "We hope that our findings encourage researchers to adopt a more holistic, interactionist approach to investigate the effects of music (and more broadly, distractions) on task performance," they write in their new paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

The researchers recruited 142 undergrads (75 per cent were women) and asked them to complete two mental tasks. The simpler task involved finding and crossing out all of the letter As in a sample of text. The more complex task involved studying lists of word pairs and then trying to recall the pairs when presented with just one word from each pair.


Silence is vital for our brains

If you're the average person, you wake up to the sound of an alarm. That alarm sends you to the bathroom where you quickly get yourself ready for your workday. If you have the time, you might eat something before jumping into your car to listen to music or the radio while you sit in traffic on your way to work.

Once you get there, it's all people, customers, co-workers, cars, trucks, planes, lawn mowers, construction, phone calls, and tasks for the next 8 hours. These noises that most of us experience in excess send our bodies into stress states, decreasing our quality of life and potentially reducing our lifespan. It appears that noise, in excess, is not healthy for humans. Silence, on the other hand, can have huge benefits, but let's explore the damage caused by noise before we get to the benefits of silence.

Comment: Noisy busyness and the disappearance of silence


Train your mind to work smarter, not harder

Mindfulness 1
© Tang Yau Hoong
Office politics. Dictatorial bosses. Coworkers' emotions bouncing up and down and sideways. Hi-tech tools that keep changing and updating. An uncertain economy and a volatile job market. Escalating levels of expectation. Loss of direction. Too much to do. Too little time. Not enough sleep.

Whether you work in a traditional or progressive environment, on your own or in a sea of cubicles, work life is full of challenges. Most of us are beholden to the income we receive from our jobs, and beyond that, we get up and go to work because we have a real desire to contribute to the greater good. Turning away from work is not an option for most of us, so we buck up and throw ourselves into the challenges of the workplace. Some of us are doing well, successful and satisfied. But too many of us are not happy at work. We're stressed out and quite possibly confused. We may appear to be effective, but gnawing issues like those above can make work secretly (or not so secretly) a drag. That's not great for us and it's not great for the people we're working with. So where do we begin if we want to improve our work life for ourselves and those around us? I suggest starting with the mind. Ask yourself: what is the quality of my mind at work? What's happening in my mind as the hours at work go by day in and day out? Is my mind working at its utmost?

The mind contains untold resources and possibilities - for creativity, kindness, compassion, insight, and wisdom. It's a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a nattering annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would like to just shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment's peace. Yet our mind is the one thing we can't shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness, we can train our minds to work better.

Comment: This goes for all areas in life, not just at work! Another useful tool - Stoicism. See also:


We could use new guidelines for working with men in therapy - just not the APA guidelines

lonely man
Men are more likely than women to kill themselves, but less likely to seek therapy. Research suggests part of the problem is that our general model for psychological therapy is more suited to women than men. Therefore we urgently need to develop ways of doing therapy that are more suited to men. The APA recently released guidelines on therapy for men and boys, which were heavily criticised. The new guidance, critics argued, owes more to ideology than science.

However, one of the APA guidelines makes perfect sense. Guideline nine recommends that psychologists should strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services. In a survey of responses to the APA advice published in Quillette, psychiatrist Sally Satel commented that: "'Gender-sensitive' psychological practice ... is questionable because it encourages clinicians to assume ... that gender is a cause or a major determinant of the patient's troubles." In the context of the APA guidelines, I can see why she said this. But being gender-sensitive is not per se a bad thing, so let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Comment: Acknowledging the objective differences between men and women and the actual preferences of men - instead of trying to mold them into a feminized version of themselves - sounds like a good step forward in assisting men with the therapeutic process. See also:


Dolly Parton gives the gift of literacy: A nonprofit library program of 100 million books

Dolly Parton
© Shawn Miller/Library of Congress
Dolly Parton reads Coat of Many Colors, a children's book based on one of her signature songs, to a group of children at the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
The Library of Congress hosted a very special guest at story time this week:

Dolly Parton.

The country music legend is also a champion of early childhood literacy, through her Imagination Library. Every month, the nonprofit program mails a free book to more than a million children - from infants to preschoolers.

Parton visited the Library of Congress on Tuesday to celebrate a major milestone in the Imagination Library's history: delivery of its 100 millionth book. Not bad for a program Parton founded more than two decades ago as a small, local effort to help kids in her native Sevier County, Tennessee.

Comment: See also: Over-entertained, under-educated, and distracted: Today's children suffer from a lack of mental nutrition


Actively religious people are happier than those who don't participate in a faith

Religion happiness

More than a third of actively religious adults in the US (36 percent) described themselves as ‘very happy’ in the surveys, compared to a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans.
People who actively practice a religion may be happier than the rest, according to a new study.

A Pew Research study analyzed survey data from more than two dozen countries to compare the self-reported lifestyles of religious and non-religious people.

Overall, the researchers found actively religious people tend to be happier, though they aren't necessarily healthier in terms of exercise or obesity rates.

While the link between religion and health may not have been so clear, the findings on self-reported happiness are 'striking,' the researchers say.

The study broke religious participation down to three categories are: Actively religious (regular participation), 'inactively religious' (claim a religious but attend services infrequently), and 'religiously unaffiliated' (people who do not identify with any religion).

More than a third of actively religious adults in the US (36 percent) described themselves as 'very happy' in the surveys, compared to a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans.

Comment: From Christian faith to nihilistic void:
Christianity introduced a sense of wonder and gratitude. The world and life were a miracle, a gift from God. Respect and awe towards creation inspired people, led them to respect and emulate it.

For the materialist, the world is a boring thing. The cosmos is a giant clockwork, life is a series of biochemical reactions. A tree is nothing but a bunch of chlorophyll-producing cells. Materialists are bored by the world because they are oblivious to it and its true nature. They don't see its magic, its harmony. They've lost any sense of wonder, curiosity or gratitude.


The Transcendental Treasure of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Flies in The Face of Materialism And Postmodernism

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer
© Wikimedia Common
Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer
If you want to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, I'd like to suggest that you spend some time in meditation on truth, beauty, and goodness. They each represent gifts to us, things that make life possible, intelligible, and worth living. They are such essential qualities that we call them transcendentals. They transcend our everyday knowledge and point toward a source that is at least capable of truth, beauty, and goodness.

Why do we value them?
  1. They are the foundations on which a life worth living is built.
  2. They enable discovery, creation, and nurturing of others.
  3. They are not wishful thinking.
  4. They are transformative.
  5. They are indicators that the world is rich, purposeful, and meaningful.
  6. They are the product of a designer who knows truth, beauty, and goodness.

Comment: How we think - and what we value - provides food for the soul just as surely as what we eat nourishes the body, or not.


How can we unlearn the fear that affects us negatively?

overcoming fear
Imagination is a wonderful thing. Emotions are often a result of the mind telling us stories without our direction over the outcome. When we imagine any fear repeatedly in a safe environment, soon our phobia, and our brain's response to it, begins to subside.

That's the takeaway of a new brain imaging study led by CU Boulder and Icahn School of Medicine researchers, suggesting that imagination can be a powerful tool in helping people with fear and anxiety-related disorders overcome them.

"This research confirms that imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our wellbeing," said Tor Wager, director of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at CU Boulder and co-senior author of the paper, published in the journal Neuron.

Being afraid of the unknown is not a new concept. From birth to death we've been trained to fear everything for a very long time. The dangers of modern life have a stranglehold on people's imaginations. Sociologists call the phenomenon a risk society, describing cultures increasingly preoccupied with threats to safety, both real and perceived, but most definitely imagined.

Comment: See also:


Study shows people are strongly influenced by gossip even when it is explicitly untrustworthy

© master1305
New research in the journal Emotion suggests that people are highly influenced by gossip, even when it is explicitly identified as untrustworthy. The findings indicate that qualifiers such as "allegedly" do little to temper the effects of negative information on a person's likeability.

"Words and phrases like 'apparently', 'allegedly' or 'is suspected of' are frequently used in daily communication, in social media and in media coverage about people, in order to signify the questionable veracity of information. These terms even serve a legal purpose and are intended to prevent false accusations, prejudgments and defamations," said study author Julia Baum of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Berlin School of Mind and Brain.

"Until now, however, little has been known about how our brain processes verbally communicated person-related information of dubious reliability and how this affects our judgments. Do we consider the uncertainty of information in order to temper our judgment about a person, formed on the basis of negative statements, and to prevent misjudgements?"

In two experiments, with 56 German participants in total, the researchers found that the judgment of people was strongly influenced by positive or negative information, even if that information was presented as uncertain.

Comment: Here we see how the mainstream media doesn't need 'facts' to convince people of their narrative. Most pieces now are written with the express purpose of appealing to one's emotions. And whether or not 'allegedly' is used in the statement, they've already made up their mind. See also: Gossip more powerful than facts in shaping opinion: study


Benefits of garden-based learning for children

© The Conversation
The time you spend in the garden with your children is invaluable.

If you have children or work with children, then you probably have noticed that hands-on experiences help them make connections to the lessons they are learning. This is especially true when the lesson involves something you enjoy or have made a hobby out of, such as gardening. Hands-on learning experiences surround us if we take the time to look, and educational opportunities abound with a little ingenuity to turn daily tasks into lessons.

Help your children establish a sense of responsibility surrounding planning, caring for, and harvesting their own gardens. Older children can even get in on the spacial awareness, science, and finances behind it all. These lessons easily transfer to a larger picture: namely, how their own responsibilities and care of something living is integral to their attention to personal moral values as they grow.

Comment: Read more about the benefits of gardening for any age!