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Wed, 26 Apr 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Music stimulates same area of brain as sex and drugs

Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll has been a preoccupation of generations of young people since the 1960s, while even even Shakespeare wrote: "If music be the food of love, play on."

And now scientists have discovered one reason why they seem to go so well together.

For the same chemical system in the brain that produces feelings of pleasure as a result of having sex, taking recreational drugs or eating tasty food is also stimulated by listening to a favourite tune.

To test the theory, the researchers found a way to temporarily block the natural opioid substances produced when we are having a good time.

Seventeen test subjects were then played music to see if doing this had an effect.

Dr Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Canada as well as a musician and record producer, said: "The impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment were fascinating.

Comment: See also: Different notes for different folks: How music makes the brain happy


Study: The human empathy connection to dogs and their facial expressions

© Pinterest
Any guesses?
Highly empathetic people experience the facial expression of dogs more intensely than their less empathetic peers. Researchers with the University of Helsinki and Aalto University found human empathy isn't limited to the human species. The ability to share and understand another's feelings is an expansive trait.

"Empathy affected assessments of dogs' facial expressions even more than previous experience of dogs, probably because the face is a biologically important stimulus for humans," Miiamaaria Kujala, a postdoctoral researcher at Helsinki, said in a news release. "Our earlier studies have showed, however, that when considering the entire body language of dogs, previous experience of dogs increases in importance."

In some ways, the findings aren't all that surprising. Darwin noted similarities between the facial expressions of different mammal species. Numerous studies have illuminated said similarities. But only a few studies have examined cross-species facial expression understanding.

The findings of the latest study -- published in the journal PLOS ONE -- showed highly empathetic people tend to recognize the expressions of dogs more quickly, accurately and intensely than others. Researchers say it's possible the participants are overstating the emotions expressed by the dogs.

"Empathy speeds up and intensifies the assessment of dogs' facial expressions, but defining the accuracy of such assessments is currently unreliable," Kujala said. Previous research has shown dogs possess cross-species emotional intelligence, too.

Comment: A basic, bare bones definition: Emotional intelligence represents an ability to validly reason with emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought.
Do dogs have this capability, or do they have refined instincts? Or both?

Comment: Physiological responses and cognitions: It is more likely dogs read human emotions far better and more accurately than we do and they don't need a non-conclusive study to prove it.

People 2

Mirror-touch synesthesia: Some really do feel for others

© Evan Krape/University of Delaware
University of Delaware professor Jared Medina and graduate students Yuqi Liu and Kyle Vietz are working to shed light on mirror-touch synesthesia.
When a student in a University of Delaware study watched a video of someone else's hand being touched, she felt the touch on her own hand. While that may seem a little eerie to most of us, she's not alone. About two in 100 people have this condition called mirror-touch synesthesia, or MTS.

In an article published in Cortex, UD researchers reveal new information about MTS based on one of the largest studies of its kind. The subject pool was more than 2,000 undergrads from multiple sections of an introductory psychology course who volunteered as research participants over the past few years.

"Some of the students in our study didn't know that what they were experiencing was different from the rest of the population, and it blew their minds," says Jared Medina, assistant professor in UD's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "But if you have mirror-touch synesthesia, there's nothing wrong with you. It's just an interesting difference, like being double-jointed."



The best treatment for anxiety and stress is meditation

© Anton Gepolov / Fotolia
Pharmaceutical companies may need a dose of their own medications. A new study finds the best treatment for anxiety may not come from your local pharmacy, but rather a quiet room in your home.

Eight weeks of mindfulness meditation significantly reduced anxiety for GAD sufferers, a new study finds.

The study, published in the Jan. 24 edition of Psychiatry Research, confirmed that eight-weeks of mindfulness meditation can be crucially beneficial for those who suffer from anxiety.

Researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Center selected 89 people who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder to undergo one of two different forms of treatment. One group took an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, which centered around meditation, and then determined whether or not it helped them relax. Those in the control group took an eight-week stress management education course, which centers more on habits such as diet, sleep, and general wellness.

Before and after the study, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test, a common experimental practice for inducing a stress response. Participants are asked on a moment's notice to perform one of the most anxiety-causing tasks for many people: give a speech in front of an audience.

Comment: We predict that mindfulness will beat out psychiatric drug therapies but drugs will continue to be used as the gold standard of treatment regardless of the evidence.


The science of being a hero

© Joe Armao
Sylvia Gray is involved in a civic project that encourages people to become heroes.
Philip Zimbardo has seen a lot of evil. He literally wrote the book on it. He designed the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, which had volunteer "guards" abuse fellow volunteers. He's studied the worst of the Abu Ghraib atrocities. And for two years, as he wrote The Lucifer Effect: How good people turn evil, he was steeped in the horrors of the Holocaust, Rwanda and other genocides. So it's fair to assume it would take a lot to spook him. But right now, Zimbardo is spooked.

"I think a unique thing is happening which is illustrated by the election of Donald Trump," Zimbardo tells Fairfax Media. Nations across the world are "moving from democracy to right-wing totalitarianism".


People 2

The one word that can ruin an apology

© Vintage Images/Getty Images
The upside of apologizing is pretty obvious: You patch things up, you offload your guilt, and you move on from any tension or awkwardness that's been plaguing your relationship with the person you hurt.

But the worst part of apologizing is obvious, too: It's deeply uncomfortable. No one likes to talk about how they screwed up, nor does anyone enjoy making themselves vulnerable. Which means that we often make clumsy attempts to get to the good stuff without the requisite unpleasantness, offering up a non-apology that doesn't require you to acknowledge any hard truths, but doesn't really smooth things over, either. In a New York Times column earlier this week, writer Jane Brody highlighted one easy way to render an apology ineffective: Using the word "but." As in, "I'm sorry, but ..."

"Offering an apology is an admission of guilt that admittedly leaves people vulnerable," Brody wrote, citing therapist Harriet Lerner's recent book Why Won't You Apologize? (Science of Us has previously interviewed Lerner about how rushing to forgiveness can be worse than holding a grudge, another topic covered in her book). Adding a "but" to the end, then, is "an excuse that counters the sincerity of the original message. The best apologies are short and don't include explanations that can undo them."

Comment: A Perfect Apology: Acknowledgment of responsibility and fixing what is wrong


Having a purpose in life makes you healthier

It helps prevent heart attack and stroke, staves off dementia, enables people to sleep better, have better sex and live longer. Oh, and it's free.

Something to live for. This simple idea is at the heart of our greatest stories, driving our heroes on. It is the thread from which more complex philosophies are woven. As Nietzsche once wrote, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how".

As human beings, it is hard for us to shake the idea that our existence must have significance beyond the here and now. Life begins and ends, yes, but surely there is a greater meaning. The trouble is, these stories we tell ourselves do nothing to soften the harsh reality: as far as the universe is concerned, we are nothing but fleeting and randomly assembled collections of energy and matter. One day, we will all be dust.

One day, but not yet. Just because life is ultimately meaningless doesn't stop us searching for meaning while we are alive. Some seek it in religion, others in a career, money, family or pure escapism. But all who find it seem to stumble across the same thing -- a thing psychologists call "purpose".

Comment: Helping others can protect you from the stress of getting lost in your own problems


Near death experience reports include timeless review of life and other perspectives

Researchers said the parts of the brain which store memory were the last affected by trauma such as oxygen or blood loss
Your life really does flash before your eyes when you die, a study suggests - with the parts of the brain that store memories last to be affected as other functions fail.

Research on those who have had "near death" experiences suggests that the phenomenon rarely involves flashbacks in chronological order, as happens in Hollywood films.

Participants said that there was rarely any order to their life memories and that they seemed to come at random, and sometimes simultaneously.

Often, the mind played tricks - with people reliving their own experiences from the point of view of others who had been involved.

Comment: Could it be that all life is lessons, and those lessons are reviewed upon death when one reaches a timeless/spaceless 'rest zone'?


Loneliness actually hurts us on a cellular level

Loneliness is a vicious cycle. The more isolated we are, the more threatened we feel. The more threatened we feel, the more we seek isolation.
"Humans are social animals" is a phrase often repeated by psychologists to sum up why we've been such a successful species. Our ability to live, work, and cooperate in groups is the key to our survival.

But it comes with a tradeoff. Companionship is an asset for human survival, but its mirror twin, isolation, can be toxic.

Loneliness is associated with higher blood pressure and heart disease — it literally breaks our hearts. A 2015 meta-review of 70 studies showed that loneliness increases the risk of your chance of dying by 26 percent. (Compare that to depression and anxiety, which is associated with a comparable 21 percent increase in mortality.)

Comment: Loneliness: The deadly truth


Human connection and its profound role to addiction (VIDEO)

Everything we thought we knew about addiction is wrong.

It's easy to judge others based on the types of addictions they might form to various substances, including caffeine, alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, and even food. What most people don't understand, however, is that there are deep, underlying reasons some are more prone to becoming addicts than others.

The following animated video, which was created by Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell and is adapted from Johann Hari's New York Times best-selling book 'Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs', explains why everything we, as a society, thought we knew about addiction is wrong.