Archive for the ‘Psychological Science’ Category

imrs

Psychedelic mushrooms can do more than make you see the world in kaleidoscope. Research suggests they may have permanent, positive effects on the human brain.

In fact, a mind-altering compound found in some 200 species of mushroom is already being explored as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety. People who consume these mushrooms, after “trips” that can be a bit scary and unpleasant, report feeling more optimistic, less self-centered, and even happier for months after the fact.

But why do these trips change the way people see the world? According to a study published today in Human Brain Mapping, the mushroom compounds could be unlocking brain states usually only experienced when we dream, changes in activity that could help unlock permanent shifts in perspective.

The study examined brain activity in those who’d received injections of psilocybin, which gives “shrooms” their psychedelic punch. Despite a long history of mushroom use in spiritual practice, scientists have only recently begun to examine the brain activity of those using the compound, and this is the first study to attempt to relate the behavioral effects to biological changes.

After injections, the 15 participants were found to have increased brain function in areas associated with emotion and memory. The effect was strikingly similar to a brain in dream sleep, according to Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a post-doctoral researcher in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.

“You’re seeing these areas getting louder, and more active,” he said. “It’s like someone’s turned up the volume there, in these regions that are considered part of an emotional system in the brain. When you look at a brain during dream sleep, you see the same hyperactive emotion centers.”

In fact, administration of the drug just before or during sleep seemed to promote higher activity levels during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, when dreams occur. An intriguing finding, Carhart-Harris says, given that people tend to describe their experience on psychedelic drugs as being like “a waking dream.” It seems that the brain may literally be slipping into unconscious patterns while the user is awake.

Conversely, the subjects of the study had decreased activity in other parts of the brain—areas associated with high level cognition. “These are the most recent parts of our brain, in an evolutionary sense,” Carhart-Harris said. “And we see them getting quieter and less organized.”

This dampening of one area and amplification of another could explain the “mind-broadening” sensation of psychedelic drugs, he said. Unlike most recreational drugs, psychotropic mushrooms and LSD don’t provide a pleasant, hedonistic reward when they’re consumed. Instead, users take them very occasionally, chasing the strange neurological effects instead of any sort of high.

“Except for some naïve users who go looking for a good time…which, by the way, is not how it plays out,” Carhart-Harris said, “you see people taking them to experience some kind of mental exploration, and to try to understand themselves.”

Our firm sense of self—the habits and experiences that we find integral to our personality—is quieted by these trips. Carhart-Harris believes that the drugs may unlock emotion while “basically killing the ego,” allowing users to be less narrow-minded and let go of negative outlooks.

It’s still not clear why such effects can have more profound long-term effects on the brain than our nightly dreams. But Carhart-Harris hopes to see more of these compounds in modern medicine. “The way we treat psychological illnesses now is to dampen things,” he said. “We dampen anxiety, dampen ones emotional range in the hope of curing depression, taking the sting out of what one feels.”

But some patients seem to benefit from having their emotions “unlocked” instead. “It would really suit the style of psychotherapy where we engage in a patient’s history and hang-ups,” Carhart-Harris said. “Instead of putting a bandage over the exposed wound, we’d be essentially loosening their minds—promoting a permanent change in outlook.”

Thanks to Steven Weihing for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/07/03/psychedelic-drugs-put-your-brain-in-a-waking-dream-study-finds/

Advertisements

by Amanda L. Chan

If you’ve ever gotten the death glare from your parent, child or S.O., you already know the results of this new study to be true.

New research in the journal Psychological Science shows that people are more likely to give in to an unfair demand when they are presented with a threatening facial expression.

For one of the experiments in the study, 870 people played a negotiation game, which involved deciding how to split $1 between two people. In each scenario, there was a “proposer,” who decided how the dollar would be split and a “responder.” However, before making the decision, the proposer was shown a video clip of the responder making either a neutral facial expression or an angry one. (Little did the study participants know, the responder was actually an actress who was instructed to portray a certain facial expression in each scenario).

In addition to viewing the facial expressions of the responder, the proposer received a written demand from the responder for either half of the amount (considered a “fair” request), or 70 percent of the amount (an “unfair” request). If the responder didn’t accept the proposer’s deal, neither party would get the money.

Researchers found an association between the offer made by the proposer and the facial expression of the responder. If the responder made an angry face and requested the 70 percent, the proposer was more likely to give the 70 percent.

Meanwhile, if the responder made an angry face and only requested the 50-50 split, this didn’t seem to affect how much the proposer offered, likely because the request was already deemed fair. (Something to consider: Because a woman actor was used for the experiment and female and male anger can be perceived differently, the results of the study apply only in the context of a woman’s angry facial expressions being able to influence giving into an unfair demand.)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/09/look-angry-facial-expression-demand_n_5473238.html

Pedophiles’ brains are “abnormally tuned” to find young children attractive, according to a new study published this week. The research, led by Jorge Ponseti at Germany’s University of Kiel, means that it may be possible to diagnose pedophiles in the future before they are able to offend.

The findings, published in scientific journal Biology Letters, discovered that pedophiles have the same neurological reaction to images of those they find attractive as those of people with ordinary sexual predilections, but that all the relevant cerebral areas become engaged when they see children, as opposed to fellow adults. The occipital areas, prefrontal cortex, putamen, and nucleus caudatus become engaged whenever a person finds another attractive, but the subject of this desire is inverted for pedophiles.

While studies into the cognitive wiring of sex offenders have long been a source of debate, this latest research offers some fairly conclusive proof that there is a neural pattern behind their behavior.

The paper explains: “The human brain contains networks that are tuned to face processing, and these networks appear to activate different processing streams of the reproductive domain selectively: nurturing processing in the case of child faces and sexual processing in the case of sexually preferred adult faces. This implies that the brain extracts age-related face cues of the preferred sex that inform appropriate response selection in the reproductive domains: nurturing in the case of child faces and mating in the case of adult faces.”

Usually children’s faces elicit feelings of caregiving from both sexes, whereas those of adults provide stimuli in choosing a mate. But among pedophiles, this trend is skewed, with sexual, as opposed to nurturing, emotions burgeoning.

The study analyzed the MRI scans of 56 male participants, a group that included 13 homosexual pedophiles and 11 heterosexual pedophiles, exposing them to “high arousing” images of men, women, boys, and girls. Participants then ranked each photo for attractiveness, leading researchers to their conclusion that the brain network of pedophiles is activated by sexual immaturity.

The critical new finding is that face processing is also tuned to face cues revealing the developmental stage that is sexually preferred,” the paper reads.

Dr. James Cantor, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, said he was “delighted” by the study’s results. “I have previously described pedophilia as a ‘cross-wiring’ of sexual and nurturing instincts, and this data neatly verifies that interpretation.”

Cantor has undertaken extensive research into the area, previously finding that pedophiles are more likely to be left-handed, 2.3 cm shorter than the average male, and 10 to 15 IQ points lower than the norm.

He continued: “This [new] study is definitely a step in the right direction, and I hope other researchers repeat this kind of work. There still exist many contradictions among scientists’ observations, especially in identifying exactly which areas of the brain are the most central to pedophilia. Because financial support for these kinds of studies is quite small, these studies have been quite small, permitting them to achieve only incremental progress. Truly definitive studies about what in the brain causes pedophilia, what might detect it, and what might prevent it require much more significant support.”

Ponseti said that he hoped to investigate this area further by examining whether findings could be emulated when images of children’s faces are the sole ones used. This could lead to gauging a person’s predisposition to pedophilia far more simply than any means currently in place. “We could start to look at the onset of pedophilia, which is probably in puberty at about 12 or 14 years [old],” he told The Independent.

While Cantor is correct in citing the less than abundant size of the study, the research is certainly significant in providing scope for future practicable testing that could reduce the number of pedophilic crimes committed. By being able to run these tests and examine a person’s tendency toward being sexually attracted to underage children, rehabilitative care and necessary precautions could be taken to safeguard children and ensure that those at risk of committing a crime of this ilk would not be able to do so.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/23/study-finds-pedophiles-brains-wired-to-find-children-attractive.html#

child_2787607b

Most adults struggle to recall events from their first few years of life and now scientists have identified exactly when these childhood memories fade and are lost forever.

A new study into childhood amnesia – the phenomenon where early memories are forgotten – has found that it tends to take affect around the age of seven.

The researchers found that while most three year olds can recall a lot of what happened to them over a year earlier, these memories can persist while they are five and six, but by the time they are over seven these memories decline rapidly.

Most children by the age of eight or nine can only recall 35% of their experiences from under the age of three, according to the new findings.

The psychologists behind the research say this is because at around this age the way we form memories begins to change.

They say that before the age of seven children tend to have an immature form of recall where they do not have a sense of time or place in their memories.

In older children, however, the early events they can recall tend to be more adult like in their content and the way they are formed.

Children also have a far faster rate of forgetting than adults and so the turnover of memories tends to be higher, meaning early memories are less likely to survive.

The findings also help to explain why children can often have vivid memories of events but then have forgotten them just a couple of years later.

Professor Patricia Bauer, a psychologist and associate dean for research at Emory college of Arts and Science who led the study, said: “The paradox of children’s memory competence and adults’ seeming “incompetence” at remembering early childhood events is striking.

“Though forgetting is more rapid in the early childhood years, eventually it slows to adult levels.

“Thus memories that “survived” early childhood have some likelihood of being remembered later in life.”

Professor Bauer and her colleagues studied 83 children over several years for the research, which is published in the scientific journal Memory.

The youngsters first visited the laboratory at the age of three years old and discussed six unique events from their past, such as family outings, camping holidays, trips to the zoo, first day of school and birthdays.

The children then returned for a second session at the ages between five years old and nine years old to discuss the same events and were asked to recall details they had previously remembered.

The researchers found that between the ages of five and seven, the amount of the memories the children could recall remained between 63-72 per cent.

However, the amount of information the children who were 8 and nine years old dropped dramatically to 35 and 36 per cent.

When the researchers looked closely at the kind of details the children were and were not able to remember, they found marked age differences.

The memories of the younger children tended to lack autobiographical narrative such as place and time. Their memories also had less narrative, which the researchers believe may lead to a process known as “retrieval induced forgetting” – where the action of remembering causes other information to be forgotten.

As they children got older, however, the memories they recalled from early childhood tended to have these features.

Professor Bauer said: “The fact that the younger children had less-complete narratives relative to the older children, likely has consequences for the continued accessibility of early memories beyond the first decade of life.

“We may anticipate that memories that survive into the ninth or tenth year of life, when narrative skills are more developed, would continue to be accessible over time.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10564312/Scientists-pinpoint-age-when-childhood-memories-fade.html

Severe-Workplace-Clutter

Here’s a toast to the slob in the office, the gal with so much junk on her desk she can’t find her telephone. All that clutter may be part of the reason she is so creative.

For years, we’ve been told that piles of personal rubbish have got to be a liability. Now there’s a flip side to that theorem.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota decided to take a look at a long-established principle of human honesty and productivity — keep your work area clean and you will be more likely to work your tail off, stay honest, be generous with your coworkers, and on and on.

Cleanliness, after all, is next to godliness.

“We were thinking about doing a paper showing how being tidy makes people kind of do the right thing,” psychologist Kathleen Vohs, lead author of a study in the journal Psychological Science, said in a telephone interview. “And then we started challenging ourselves. Is there anything that goes along with a messy environment that could be good?”

So Vohs and her co-workers conducted a series of experiments in Holland and the United States to see if there’s an up-side to untidiness. The finding, she said, surprised even the researchers.

A messy work environment, the research suggested, can bring out a person’s creativity and lead to the birth of bold, new ideas. In other words, a less- than-perfect work environment can make a person more likely to think out of the box, or at least above the horizon of those neat people in the office.

That doesn’t mean you can set a nitwit in front of a cluttered desk and end up with another Einstein, who is said to have muttered these immortal words: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Numerous historic photos of Einstein’s office show he was no neat freak.

No amount of clutter is going to make an empty brain creative, but this research indicates that a little clutter may bring out the freshest and most creative side of you.

“The environment doesn’t create something that isn’t already there,” Vohs said. “To the extent that you are creative, it pulls it out of you.”

Not a lot of researchers have taken up the banner of messy desks, so there’s not much to compare this work with, but the research involved a large number of participants, both young and old, and it led to these conclusions:

Sociology’s “broken windows theory” is not entirely accurate. According to Vohs’ study, that theory “posits that minor signs of disorder can cause much bigger consequences, such as delinquency and criminality.” But her research suggested a less-pristine environment can leave persons free to turn to creativity instead of crime.

“Orderly environments would encourage adherence to social convention and overall conservatism, whereas disorderly environments would encourage people to seek novelty and unconventional routes.”

“Our findings imply that varying the environment can be an effective way to shape behavior.”

Those findings resulted from three experiments in which participants were assigned tasks while seated in a neat, orderly office, or in an office that was identical in every way except it was filled with clutter, such as papers on the floor and stacks of files on the desk.

Thirty-four Dutch students were tested to see if the orderliness of the room had any effect on their generosity and sense of needing to do the right thing. At the end of the experiment, for example, the students were asked to contribute to a worthy cause.

Some 82 percent of the students in the orderly room contributed money, compared to only 47 percent in the disorderly room.

As they left the room, they were offered a treat, either an apple or a piece of candy. Participants from the orderly room were more than three times as likely to take the apple. Moral: orderliness brought out a need do the right thing.

In a second experiment, participants were told to come up with new uses for ping-pong balls to help a manufacturer.

“Participants in the disorderly room generated more highly creative ideas than did participants in the orderly room,” the study said.

In the final experiment, 188 American adults were asked to pick from a list of new options to be added to a restaurant’s menu. Participants from the orderly room were far more likely to pick a healthy option than were participants from a disorderly room.

The researchers described the findings as “robust,” meaning there was little question that the environment directly influenced the behavior of the participants.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” the researchers concluded. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

Something good can come from either setting, Vohs said. A tidy workplace may help people walk a straight line. A messy desk may help them figure out a new way to keep from walking at all.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/tidy-messy-environment-impact-decisions-behavior-study/story?id=19909678