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Sun, 18 Nov 2018
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit

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Are the guilt-prone more trustworthy?

lonely man
New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business finds that when it comes to predicting who is most likely to act in a trustworthy manner, one of the most important factors is the anticipation of guilt.

While some people can tell the difference between feeling angry and guilty, others may not be able to separate the two. It turns out your mother was right: guilt is a powerful motivator.

Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes--accurately or not--that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.

It's accurate to think of guilt as an internal state. In the overall scheme of emotions, guilt is in the general category of negative feeling states. It's one of the "sad" emotions, which also include agony, grief, and loneliness. But it's not really negative at all. In fact it can lead to many positive aspects of ourselves, especially if we reprogram ourselves.


Study of hundreds of nuns and monks reveals personality trait that cuts Alzheimer's risk in half

monk hands
Being conscientious cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in half, research finds.

People who are conscientious tend to be more organised, responsible and in control of their impulses.

The study's authors explain:
"Conscientiousness (eg, "I am a productive person who always gets the job done") refers to a tendency to be self-disciplined, scrupulous, and purposeful."

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People 2

Research suggests talk therapy could permanently change depressive personality traits

talk therapy, depression
Around 13% of the population has depressive personality traits - but they do not have to be permanent.

Talking therapies can help to change depressive personality traits, research finds.

Although personality is sometimes thought of as fixed, psychotherapy can actually change it.

Around 13% of the population have depressive personality traits - but they do not have to be permanent.

Comment: More information on ways to alleviate depression:


Avoid these common traps that can lead to unhappiness

traps, mousetraps
Almost every action we take in life is aimed at achieving or maintaining "happiness" - that elusive state where we feel contentment, satisfaction, and even bliss.

Still, happiness can be a bit hard to define. Unhappiness, on the other hand, is easy to identify; you know it when you see it, and you definitely know when it's taken ahold of you.

Happiness has much less to do with life circumstances than you might think. A University of Illinois study found that people who earn the most (more than $10 million annually) are only a smidge happier than the average Joes and Janes who work for them.

Life circumstances have little to do with happiness because much happiness is under your control - the product of your habits and your outlook on life. Psychologists from the University of California who study happiness found that genetics and life circumstances only account for about 50% of a person's happiness. The rest is up to you.


Researchers point out how autism can bring extra abilities

© Liz Hingley
“If you speak to autistic people, they will say you can’t be a little bit autistic”
We have been looking at autism all wrong, says Anna Remington. Our understanding of the condition has been skewed by an overly medical focus that classes any differences as impairments, she says, when in fact they could just represent diversity.

Remington is head of the Centre for Research in Autism and Education at University College London, which tries to involve autistic people at every level in directing research and interpreting the results. "We ask autistic people 'what should we be researching?'" she says. "Maybe surprisingly, it's not the genetic research, it's more about practical solutions like how do we improve employment rates?" Her own work focuses on autistic strengths, and her team is starting to uncover what underpins some of these abilities with a view to increasing employment opportunities for autistic people.


Psychology is undergoing a house cleaning

Stanford Prison Experiment
© PrisonExp.org
An image taken from the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, which was conducted by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo.
The urge to pull down statues extends well beyond the public squares of nations in turmoil. Lately it has been stirring the air in some corners of science, particularly psychology.

In recent months, researchers and some journalists have strung cables around the necks of at least three monuments of the modern psychological canon:
  • The famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which found that people playacting as guards quickly exhibited uncharacteristic cruelty.
  • The landmark marshmallow test, which found that young children who could delay gratification showed greater educational achievement years later than those who could not.
  • And the lesser known but influential concept of ego depletion - the idea that willpower is like a muscle that can be built up but also tires.
The assaults on these studies aren't all new. Each is a story in its own right, involving debates over methodology and statistical bias that have surfaced before in some form.

But since 2011, the psychology field has been giving itself an intensive background check, redoing more than 100 well-known studies. Often the original results cannot be reproduced, and the entire contentious process has been colored, inevitably, by generational change and charges of patriarchy.

"This is a phase of cleaning house and we're finding that many things aren't as robust as we thought," said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who has led the replication drive. "This is a reformation moment - to say let's self-correct, and build on knowledge that we know is solid."


Research finds people with high IQs more likely to consume drugs and alcohol

woman smoking
Intelligent people often value novel things and are at a greater risk of getting bored. People with high IQs are more likely to consume mind-altering substances, research finds.

Whether it is alcohol, tobacco or psychoactive drugs like LSD, intelligence and drug-taking are linked. More intelligent people are also more likely to have sampled a variety of different recreational drugs in the past.

The explanation could be that intelligent people are attracted to novelty or that they do not fear becoming addicted due to higher self-control.

The conclusions come from a series of studies conducted around the world. One looked at data from the UK and the US, tracking childhood intelligence and the drugs people took later in life.

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Self-control is the trait that can make people happier

happy woman
People with higher self-control are happier because they pursue more rewarding goals, research finds.

Having high self-control is linked to being more positive in life, approaching potentially rewarding situations and achieving ambitions.

People high on self-control are also less likely to focus on the negative, which leads to avoidance.

The result is that people with high self-control are happier:
"...individuals with higher [self-control] are not only happier in that they experience greater life satisfaction, they also do not need to self-regulate as often as one may think."

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Heart - Black

Why do some folks undercut helpful people?

good deed kindness children
© Library of Congress
The motivation for punishing people who are 'too nice'.

People who are generous and cooperative can get punished by others for being 'too good', new research finds.

Humans in all cultures can be suspicious of those who appear nicer or better than the rest. Also, the top cooperators and nicest people make others look bad, so bringing them down a peg or two can be attractive. That is why some of the nicest people can attract social punishment and even hatred.


Is psychedelics research closer to theology than to science?

Do psychedelics give access to a universal, mystical experience of reality, or is that just a culture-bound illusion?

In case you hadn't noticed, we're in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. Research into the healing potential of psychedelics has re-started at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Imperial College London, and is making rock stars out of the scientists carrying it out. Their findings are being reported with joy and exultation by mainstream media - on CNN, the BBC, even the Daily Mail. Respectable publishers such as Penguin are behind psychedelics bestsellers such as Michael Pollan's book How To Change Your Mind (2018), which was reviewed enthusiastically across the political spectrum. Silicon Valley billionaires are putting their blockchain millions into funding psychedelics research, and corporates are preparing for a juicy new market. The counterculture has gone mainstream. Turn on, tune in, sell out.

The renaissance involves the resurrection of many ideas from the first 'summer of love' in 1967, in particular, the mystical theory of psychedelics. This idea was introduced by Aldous Huxley in his classic The Doors of Perception (1954). Having studied mystical experiences for more than a decade without really having one, Huxley took mescaline, and felt that he'd finally been let in to the mystics' club. Other 1960s gurus such as Alan Watts, Ram Dass and Huston Smith were also convinced that psychedelics led to genuine mystical experiences, and would be a catalyst for Western culture's spiritual awakening.