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Thu, 28 Jul 2016
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Research finds having first baby may lead to unhappiness worse than divorce and unemployment

© Michaela Rehle / Reuters
Although considered to be the most joyful period of life, a new study shows that, for many couples, having a first child may turn out to be a worse experience than getting divorced or being unemployed, leading to a strong decline in happiness.

Research published in the Demography Journal on August 4, which was conducted by German and Canadian scientists, shows that the impact of a new baby on the parents' lives might be so severe that it could alter their views on family and make them think twice about having another child.

The new study aims to explain recent demographic patterns indicating low birth rates in developed countries. It demonstrates that psychological factors affect parents' perceived level of happiness after the birth of the first child, which may be a critical factor for the future size of the family.

The researchers tried to gain insight into the disparity between how many children people claim they want to have, and how many kids they actually end up having. The study sought an explanation for the sustained low fertility rates in countries like Germany (1.5 children per woman over the last 40 years) or Great Britain (2 children per woman in 1971, compared to only 1.7 in 2013).

Comment: It's interesting that despite how individuals feel after having a child that they still continue to have children. The biological urge to reproduce is so strong that it seemingly overrides our own natural desire to be happy. It's even worse that society has made it taboo to discuss those feelings. What kind of society do we live in where we aren't allowed to speak honestly about our wellbeing?


Music more effective than drugs in relieving pain and anxiety

© Thinkstock
400 published scientific papers have proven the old adage that "music is medicine." Neurochemical benefits of music can improve the body's immune system, reduce anxiety levels and help regulate mood in ways that drugs have difficulty competing.

"We've found compelling evidence that musical interventions can play a health care role in settings ranging from operating rooms to family clinics," says Prof. Levitin of McGill University's Psychology Department. "But even more importantly, we were able to document the neurochemical mechanisms by which music has an effect in four domains: management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding."

The review appearing in in Trends in Cognitive Science, was prompted by the growing number of studies addressing evidence-based music interventions (as opposed to music therapy, which is something else). Prior to this review, no one had really taken the time to look at what all the new evidence was suggesting.


Religious and spiritual beliefs help cancer patients' physical, mental, and social well-being

Research reveals that most individuals with cancer have religious and spiritual beliefs, or derive comfort from religious and spiritual experiences. But what impact does this have on patients' health? Recent analyses of all published studies on the topic—which included more than 44,000 patients—shed new light on the associations of religion and spirituality with cancer patients' mental, social, and physical well-being. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the analyses indicate that religion and spirituality have significant associations with patients' health, but there was wide variability among studies regarding how different dimensions of religion and spirituality relate to different aspects of health.


How listening to Mozart could prevent epileptic seizures

© The Telegraph, UK
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Listening to Mozart seems to protect against epileptic fits.
Listening to jazz or Mozart might stop epileptics having seizures, new research has suggested.

Epileptics react differently to music than those who do not have the disorder, new research found.

Scans show brainwaves of those with the disorder appear to synchronise with music by Mozart or John Coltrane but not with silence such as American experimental composer John Cage's piece 4'33" or "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds."

Assistant professor of neurology Dr Christine Charyton said: "We believe that music could potentially be used as an intervention to help people with epilepsy.

"We were surprised by the findings. We hypothesised that music would be processed in the brain differently than silence."

"We did not know if this would be the same or different for people with epilepsy."

While music would not replace current epilepsy therapy, the research suggested music might be a novel intervention used in conjunction with traditional treatment to help prevent seizures in people with epilepsy.

Around four fifths of epilepsy cases are what is known as temporal lobe epilepsy, in which the seizures appear to originate in the temporal lobe of the brain.


Your brain is particularly vulnerable to trauma at two distinct ages

© Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Our brain's ability to process information and adapt effectively is dependent on a number of factors, including genes, nutrition, and life experiences. These life experiences wield particular influence over the brain during a few sensitive periods when our most important muscle is most likely to undergo physical, chemical, and functional remodeling.

According to Tara Swart, a neuroscientist and senior lecturer at MIT, your "terrible twos" and those turbulent teen years are when the brain's wiring is most malleable. As a result, traumatic experiences that occur during these time periods can alter brain activity and ultimately change gene expressions—sometimes for good.

People 2

Emotions directly influence processes of learning and memory in the brain

© Minerva Studio / Fotolia
The purpose of this study was to identify the electrical activity that takes place in the brain during the formation of social memory.
A groundbreaking new study at the University of Haifa has found for the first time that emotions are not only the product of the processing of information by the brain, but that they also directly influence processes of learning and memory in the brain. Dr. Shlomo Wagner of the Sagol Department of Neurobiology at the University of Haifa, who undertook the study, explains: "It turns out that different emotions cause the brain to work differently and on distinct frequencies."

The main goal of the new study, which was published this February in the science journal eLife, was to identify the electrical activity that takes place in the brain during the formation of social memory. During the course of their work, the researchers -- Dr. Wagner and Ph.D. Alex Tendler -- discovered the scientific explanation behind the saying "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." More importantly, they came to understand the connection between emotions and cognitive processes such as learning and memory.


Stress tweaks brain to sabotage self control

© Gewitterkind/iStockphoto
When life gets stressful, it is only natural that you should reach for the chocolate bar rather than an apple.

At least that is the finding of a Swiss study that shows how stress alters the brain's network to impair self-control.

The finding, published today in the journal Neuron, helps explain why people under stress choose short-term gain over long-term goals.

For the study the researchers at the University of Zurich, recruited 51 participants who reported they were making an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but still enjoyed and consumed junk food.

Twenty-nine of the cohort were subjected to moderate stress by having their hand submerged in ice water for three minutes while being filmed and observed.

All participants were then asked to choose between eating a very tasty but unhealthy food item, or a healthy but relatively less tasty item.

First author Silvia Maier, from the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research in the Department of Economics, says those who had been subjected to stress were more likely to select an unhealthy food.

This was despite being reminded which foods were better for them during the experiment.

Maier says the brain's decision to risk long-term gain for a short-term benefit is best understood from an evolutionary perspective.

"One widespread idea about the stress response is that it prepares the body for 'fight or flight'," she says.

"So that means it is helping to take an appropriate action right now. If you look at self-control problems from this angle, it might seem more important and prioritised under stress to cope with the stressor and the stress reaction.

"Long-term goals would have to take a backseat in this situation and would have to wait until the stressful situation has been resolved."


Can genes make us liberal or conservative?

© Thinkstock
Aristotle may have been more on the money than he realized in saying man is a political animal, according to research published Wednesday linking genes with liberal or conservative leanings.

Or, to be precise, a specific variant of one gene that would seem to exert greater sway over women than men.

Working with 1,771 university students of Han Chinese origin in Singapore, researchers compared answers to surveys — including one tailored to hot-button issues in the city-state — with the presence of a permutation of the DRD4 gene.

DRD4 is one of several genes that determines the way dopamine — a crucial neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger — is released in the brain.

What they found was a robust link between the presence (or not) of the variant and a split between liberals inclined to decry inequality, on the one hand, and die-hard conservative wary of change, on the other.

"The association between political attitude and DRD4 was highly significant for females," and less so for men, said the study, led by Richard Ebstein of the National University of Singapore.

Women, it was also shown, tended to be more conservative in general.

The results are bolstered by earlier research based on people of European descent that found similar patterns around the same gene, according to the study.

In the long-standing "Nature vs. Nurture" debate, it was long assumed that social values — and especially political ones — were rooted in family upbringing, education and class.

But a growing body of evidence suggests, in the words of the researchers, that "biology can't be ignored."


Who is making your decisions?

When you reflect on your life, do you sometimes lament the choices you've made, directions you took or didn't take, and wonder what could have been? You may find that you've achieved success in one or more areas of life, yet feel like you have fallen short in others. You might ask if your life is really going as planned? But do you ever ask yourself if the plan was even really yours to begin with? If it wasn't yours, what got in the way of living the life you wanted to live?

Have you stopped to think about what you believe and how it has impacted who you are and what you have become? If you take a minute to reflect on the path you've taken so far, can you say it was aligned with what you really wanted for yourself?

If you weren't listening to your own heart-felt desires and aspirations, what were you listening to? Whose voice was in your head that made you choose a certain direction in life? Was it your parents, caretakers, family, religion, other authority figures, friends, peers, media and entertainment personalities, advertisers, the Internet?

2 + 2 = 4

Making peace with our own worst enemy - ourselves

© Christian Scheja/Flickr
"Wawen!" (Translation: Lauren)

Those dreaded words from across the hall wake us up, as they often do in the middle of the night. Our three year old foster child is having a hard time sleeping again.

This is where it gets really hard. My wife needs sleep, and this little boy does not want me to come lay with him. My relationship with him is great―but his emotional wounds run deep and I've yet to pay the needed price for his heavily guarded trust. I've pushed it off, seeking momentary gratification, for far too long.