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Mon, 24 Sep 2018
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Training one's 'compassion muscle' may boost brain's resilience to others' suffering

© iStock
A new study suggests that compassion meditation training may reduce the distress a person feels when witnessing another’s suffering. It may also improve their ability and likelihood to respond with compassion.
It can be distressing to witness the pain of family, friends or even strangers going through a hard time. But what if, just like strengthening a muscle or learning a new hobby, we could train ourselves to be more compassionate and calm in the face of others' suffering?

That is the question behind research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a new study suggests that as little as two weeks of compassion meditation training - intentionally cultivating positive wishes to understand and relieve the suffering of others - may reduce the distress a person feels when witnessing another's suffering. It may also improve their ability and likelihood to respond with compassion.

The findings, published May 22 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, may have implications for professions in which people routinely work with others who are suffering, like doctors, law enforcement officers and first responders who experience high levels of distress or empathic burnout.

Comment: Designing robust studies is difficult when attending to ephemeral subjects like meditation and compassion. But none the less, the results here are interesting. The idea that increasing compassion actually makes one more resilient to other's suffering, and not lead one to a more calloused view, as is often seen in those who are in healing and caring professions long term, is actually quite promising.

See also:

Cloud Grey

The pain and lessons of persistent regret can teach how to live better now

seashore scene
Lingering regrets, the kind you hang onto for years, can be great company, returning daily to keep some part of you living an alternate version of your life and career. They're the stuff of sublime tragic novels and films. They can even be functional if they propel you forward, determined not to make the same mistakes again.

Intuitively, though, we know that left to fester, regrets can control your mood to ill effect and make you miserable.

The solution is not to repress the thoughts or take on some kind of delusional "no regrets" bravado, says Shai Davidai, a psychology professor at The New School and co-author of a recent study on regret. Instead, he argues, we're better off digging into our oldest woes and becoming acquainted with their nature, and the nature of our response to them.

Comment: See also: The Amazing Power of Regret to Shape Our Future


Some amazing ways exercise changes your personality

happy woman
© Garcinia Cambogia 1234 by Creative Bioscience
How to change your personality for the better.

Being more physically active makes people more extraverted, conscientious, agreeable and open to new experience, new research finds.

A few of the benefits of these personality changes include:
  • Higher conscientiousness is linked to more success in life,
  • more extraverted people experience more positive emotions,
  • and being open to experience is linked to creativity and intelligence.
These changes to personality have been documented over years and decades.

Naturally, remaining sedentary is linked to the opposite pattern in personality. Sedentary people have the tendency to become less agreeable, more introverted, less open to experience and less conscientious.

The good news is that only relatively small amounts of exercise are enough, over the years, to lead to positive changes to personality.


Empathic people process music differently than others

music notes
People with higher empathy differ from others in the way their brains process music, according to a study by researchers at Southern Methodist University, Dallas and UCLA.

Music is listened to in all known cultures. Similarities between human and animal song have been detected: both contain a message, an intention that reflects innate emotional state that is interpreted correctly even among different species. In fact, several behavioral features in listening to music are closely related to attachment: lullabies are sung to infants to increase their attachment to a parent, and singing or playing music together is based on teamwork and may add group cohesion.

Our willingness to listen to music is biological trait and related to the neurobiological pathways affecting social affiliation and communication.

The researchers found that compared to low empathy people, those with higher empathy process familiar music with greater involvement of the reward system of the brain, as well as in areas responsible for processing social information.

Comment: Melancholy melodies trigger emotional response in empathetic listeners


Hypercritical parenting deadens a child's ability to respond to emotions and build lasting relationships

critical parenting, hypercritical parents

Children with hypercritical parents pay less attention to facial expressions of emotions, which affects their relationships with others and may explain why they are more at risk for depression and anxiety.
Higher risk of depression and anxiety from this parental behaviour.

People with critical parents pay less attention to the emotions on other people's faces, researchers have found.

Looking at and reading emotional expression in other people's faces helps us build rewarding relationships.

Avoiding these expressions could help to explain how critical parenting can lead to depression and anxiety in later life, since relationships are so critical to well-being.


Arrow Down

Average human IQ has been dropping since 1970

human iq test
Average human IQ has been dropping over the last few decades, new research concludes.

Potential culprits are worsening nutrition (particularly eating less fish), poorer education and the rise of new technologies.

The trend is surprising as in the early part of the 20th century, people were getting smarter.

The IQ boost that humans previously enjoyed is called the 'Flynn effect', after the psychologist who researched it.

But now that trend has stopped and gone into reverse.

In the last twenty or thirty years, humans have started getting dumber, researchers in Norway now suggest.

Their data come from compulsory IQ tests given to young men entering military service in Norway between 1970 and 2009.

Comment: Poorer nutrition? Check. Worsening education? Big check! Media and technology? Check. Compared to 50 years ago, there seems a drastic reduction in people's ability to engage in rational thought. Although, this is no accident and most likely by design. The power structure counts on a dumbed down population so that it may continue its agenda without much resistance or criticism.


Commitment and involvement: The antidote to a father's absence in the home

father and child
"First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the couple with the baby carriage." - That was a school yard chant when I was in elementary school - usually used to tease a couple of kids caught holding hands. That was in the 50s, in some ways a much more innocent time.

These days, the love-marriage-parenting progression has been blown apart. Babies happen before marriage, to cohabiting couples, and to women who are not emotionally connected to the father. Love may not have anything to do with it. In fact 40% of children born in the U.S. are born to unmarried mothers. According to the U.S. Census, 43% of children under age 18 live without fathers. That's over 24 million kids growing up without a dad in the house.

Having kids is no guarantee that dads will live with their children or will stay. Compared to kids born to married couples, those born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience the departure of their dad - or may never even know him. Those born to unmarried parents who don't live together are four times as likely to grow up without an involved dad. A recent study published in the American Sociological Review shows that fifty percent of all children born to married parents this year will experience the divorce of their parents before they turn 18.

According to the national Fatherhood Initiative, about 40% of children who do not live with their biological father have not seen him during the past 12 months; more than half of them have never been in his home and 26% of those fathers live in a different state than their children.

Comment: Further reading:

Red Pill

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: A World Split Apart

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
delivered 8 June 1978, Harvard University

[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio English translation]

I am sincerely happy to be here on the occasion of the 327th commencement of this old and most prestigious university. My congratulations and very best wishes to all of today's graduates.

Harvard's motto is "VERITAS." Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on it's pursuit. But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter. There is some bitterness in my today's speech too, but I want to stress that it comes not from an adversary, but from a friend.

Three years ago in the United States I said certain things which at that time appeared unacceptable. Today, however, many people agree with what I then said.

2 + 2 = 4

Broken relationships at the root of US suicide epidemic

couple in therapy
© iStock
It's the state of our relationships, not the state of the individuals themselves, that's broken.
Kirsten Powers wrote in USA Today what is perhaps the most astute response to the recent news about suicide - not just Kate Spade's and Anthony Bourdain's suicides, but the recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows a sharp increase in the number of suicides overall.

The CDC notes that more than half of those who died by suicide did not have a "known mental health condition." It is also worth noting that male suicide is far more prevalent than female suicide. And there, too, mental illness is not the reason. "The epidemic of depression and despair in the Western World isn't always caused by our brains," writes Powers. "It's largely caused by key problems in the way we live" and indicates that something is very wrong with the culture.



Demons really are possessing people, warns psychiatrist

An Ivy League-educated psychiatrist is convinced that there's a growing epidemic of demonic possession in the world today, and that most everyday people now recognize the dark reality of this scary situation.

Dr. Richard Gallagher, who boasts degrees from both Princeton University and Yale University, says that, despite conflicting opinions within mainstream medical science, demonic possession is both real and rampant.

With 25 years of experience under his belt as a private psychiatrist that compliments his two teaching positions at both New York Medical College and Columbia University, Dr. Gallagher believes he holds a unique vantage point in discerning between human and non-human, or satanic, behavior.

Comment: While the idea of demonic possession remains rather fringe, relegated to the corners of superstition and religious delusion, the work of Dr. Richard Gallagher, among others, shines an important light on the phenomenon. There is little doubt that something is going on here, but separating the myths from the truths, the legitimate cases from the counterfeits, is difficult.

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