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Mon, 24 Jul 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Can you feel your heartbeat? You might be better at perceiving others' emotions

You really should listen to your heart. People who are more aware of their heartbeat are better at perceiving the emotions of people around them. What's more, improving this ability might help some people with autism and schizophrenia.

Can you feel your heart beating softly against your breastbone? Or perhaps you feel hungry, thirsty or in pain? If so, you are perceiving your internal state -- a process called interoception. It's thought that to generate emotions, we first need to interpret our body's internal state of affairs.

So if we see a rabid dog, we only feel fear once we recognise an increase in our heart rate or perceive a sweaty palm. Some people with conditions that involve having poor interoceptive abilities also have trouble interpreting their emotions.

But researchers have also speculated that interoception is important for understanding what other people are thinking, and even guessing what they think a third person might be thinking -- known as theory of mind. The idea is that if we have trouble distinguishing our own emotions, we might also find it hard to interpret the emotions -- and corresponding mental states of others.


Creative people may process reality differently

If you're the kind of person who relishes adventure, you may literally see the world differently. People who are open to new experiences can take in more visual information than other people and combine it in unique ways. This may explain why they tend to be particularly creative.

Openness to experience is one of the "big five" traits often used to describe personality. It is characterised by curiosity, creativity and an interest in exploring new things. Open people tend to do well at tasks that test our ability to come up with creative ideas, such as imagining new uses for everyday objects like bricks, mugs or table tennis balls.

There's some evidence that people with a greater degree of openness also have better visual awareness. For example, when focusing on letters moving on a screen, they are more likely to notice a grey square appearing elsewhere on the display.

Now Anna Antinori at the University of Melbourne in Australia and her team are showing that people who score more highly when it comes to the openness trait "see" more possibilities. "They seem to have a more flexible gate for the visual information that breaks through into their consciousness," Antinori says.


Generating positive momentum to change your life one small step at a time

I've always been thrilled by the feeling of a plane taking off. No matter how often I fly I am amazed by the experience of the plane barreling down the runway with increasing velocity until it reaches such speeds that it begins to lift off into the sky. That feeling of becoming airborne, of the momentum of takeoff, is nothing short of incredible. But I have to go no farther than the local soccer field or basketball court to witness the power of momentum. As a spectator of many high school sports over the years, I find it fascinating to witness how powerful momentum is on the field. Sometimes all it takes is one goal, or basket, or home run, to completely change the energy of the game and send a team that had been struggling to score, to ultimate victory.

But momentum can work in the opposite direction too, the kind that spirals downward and makes you feel stuck in a rut. I have certainly seen this momentum at work in the lives of some of my patients, and at times, in my own life. It can show up in the form of procrastination, anxiety, stress, depression, loss of motivation, hopelessness, or other insidious forms. Momentum of this sort can be quite powerful too, making it harder and harder to move forward. Sometimes it can feel more difficult to take that one step forward than to do nothing at all.

It can be helpful to take inventory of the ways in which momentum has shown up in your own life, creating both downward and upward spirals. Think of a time when you were in a downward spiral? What helped you to move out of it? Think of a time when you experienced the effects of positive momentum. What actions were you taking that helped to perpetuate the forward motion? I notice with myself and my patients that inaction, whether due to fear, or procrastination, or depression, or self-doubt, is usually behind most downward spirals. There are often things that we can be doing to get ourselves out of a rut, to help ourselves feel better, but we aren't doing those things.

Comment: Why one life hack can change everything for you: The simple things that matter


What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness - Robert Waldinger

© Thinkstock
What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone - but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken. As the director of 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

Life Preserver

This simple game helps reduce traumatic memory by 62%

Those who had played the game had 62% fewer intrusive memories in the following week.

Playing Tetris — a retro tile-matching puzzle game — can help reduce the formation of intrusive memories after a traumatic event, new research finds.

Participants in the study had all been involved in a car accident in the last six hours.

They were waiting in the E.R. in Oxford, England.

While waiting to be seen, some were encouraged to play Tetris.

A comparison group just filled in an activity log of what had happened since they had arrived in the hospital.

The results showed that in the following week those who had played Tetris had 62% fewer intrusive memories.

Life Preserver

Good news for worrywarts: Fretting could be beneficial if used as a motivator for healthy behavior

Good news for worrywarts everywhere: Your fretting and fussing can actually have health benefits, according to a new scientific paper. Not only can worrying serve as an emotional buffer against worst-case scenarios, say researchers, but it can also be a strong motivator for proactive, healthy behaviors.

The article, published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass, also argues that people who worry a lot may perform better in school or at work, and that they engage in more successful problem solving. "I think there's a lack of understanding when people are made to feel bad for worrying, or told to 'just stop worrying about it,'" says author Kate Sweeny, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

While worrying generally gets a bad rap, it does make sense that the habit could be protective: Naturally anxious people might be expected to follow health and safety advice to a T, like wearing their seatbelts, applying sunscreen every few hours, and keeping up-to-date with doctor's appointments and screenings, for example.


Study finds psychopathic personalities gravitate to business and economic degrees

© Inconnu
CEO bosses have long been depicted as psychopaths in popular culture, but the stereotype might not be that far from the truth.

Psychopaths are more likely to study business and economics degrees, according to a new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark used the "dark triad" of personality traits, which looks at psychopathy and narcissism, and is associated with a desire for social dominance and power in the workplace.

More than 400 Danish students, enrolled in either psychology, politics, business/economics or law, took the test.


Listening to your heart (beat) can help you become more empathetic

© Telegraph
Volunteers were asked to listen to the heart beat without feeling for a pulse.
When it comes to reading the emotions of others, "listen to your heart" may sound a meaninglessly vague suggestion.

According to new research, however, the advice should be taken literally.

Scientists have discovered that people able to hear their own heart beat are more empathetic and better able to navigate social situations.

Experiments at Anglia Ruskin University have for the first time proven a link between a person's own physiological awareness, and their psychological ability to "read the minds" of other people.


The secret to honesty revealed: it feels better

© PA
The striatum is key to valuing decent behaviour.
It is a mystery that has perplexed psychologists and philosophers since the dawn of humanity: why are most people honest?

Now, using a complex array of MRI machines and electrocution devices, scientists claim to have found the answer.

Researchers at University College London discovered that at a physical level the brain finds decency far more satisfying than deception.

The trial revealed that, despite accumulating a large amount of money, most participants derived no deep-seated satisfaction if the success was gained at the expense of others.

Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study indicates that, at least at a psychological level, the old adage that "crime doesn't pay" is right.

"When we make decisions, a network of brain regions calculates how valuable our options are," said Dr Molly Crockett, who led the research.

"Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses in this network, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others.

"Our results suggest the money just isn't as appealing."

The research team scanned volunteers' brains as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money.

The experiment involved 28 couples of participants who were paired off and given the ability to give each other small electric shocks.


Embracing vulnerability is the most powerful yoga

"Embracing your vulnerability is the beginning of creating a very different world that we can all live in," writes yoga teacher Donna Farhi.

We all begin life fully embodied, that is to say, connected to our sensate experience. My teacher Ray Worring used to describe this as "polymorphously sensuous," which is to say that every part of the body has the capacity for feeling.

He contended that we have been culturally indoctrinated to limit this heightened awareness and experience of the body to a few square inches of sexualized anatomy, while the rest of the body becomes dull, unfelt, and ultimately unheard.

When we restore ourselves to this whole-bodied sensuousness we are experiencing sensations such as warm air passing over the hairs on our arms, or cool water flowing down the throat, or a tiny sharpness in the back muscles. We start to feel ourselves in and as life—reconnected to the source of our own animation.
"Vulnerability is a requirement in sharing our true feelings, thoughts, and emotions with others, but it is also a requirement in opening to the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others."