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Psychopaths: how can you spot one? – April 6, 2014

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Professor Robert Hare is a criminal psychologist, and the creator of the PCL-R, a psychological assessment used to determine whether someone is a psychopath. “A high-scoring psychopath views the world in a very different way,” says Hare. “It’s like colour-blind people trying to understand the colour red, but in this case ‘red’ is other people’s emotions.”

psychopathsAt heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list includes: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, cunning/manipulative, pathological lying, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, a tendency to boredom, impulsivity, criminal versatility, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy. Hare says: “A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, once said: ‘Bob, when I meet someone who scores 35 or 36, I know these people really are different.’ The ones we consider to be alien are the ones at the upper end.”

If someone’s brain lacks the moral niceties the rest of us take for granted, they obviously can’t do anything about that, any more than a colour-blind person can start seeing colour. So where does this leave the concept of moral responsibility? “The legal system traditionally asserts that all people standing in front of the judge’s bench are equal. That’s demonstrably false,” says the neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. He suggests that instead of thinking in terms of blameworthiness, the law should deal with the likelihood that someone will reoffend, and issue sentences accordingly, with rehabilitation for those likely to benefit and long sentences for those likely to be long-term dangers

via Psychopaths: how can you spot one? – Telegraph.

The Science of Snobbery September 10, 2013

Posted by tkcollier in Food, Lifestyle, Music.
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Articles on this wine research recommend that serving cheap wine in fancy bottles or reaching for bottom shelf wine. Does that mean you should constantly deceive yourself into enjoying cheap wine? Or never spend more than $10 since we often mistake $10 bottles with $100 bottles? In that case, will you never spend over $10 on sushi for same reason? Or never spend over $30 at a fancy restaurant because the ambiance often tricks people into thinking a simple chicken dish is fancy?

j0178091Ordinary consumers don’t think hard and deliberately when sipping wine over a conversation with friends or listening to a concert. Even when thinking deliberatively, overcoming our intuitive impressions is difficult for experts and amateurs alike. This article has referred to the influence of price tags and context on products and experiences like wine and classical music concerts as tricks that skew our perception. But maybe we should consider them a real, actual part of the quality.

What does this all say about wine snobs? The answer is just as unclear. Due to the way that appreciation of wine, fancy food, and other aspects of high culture is often used to police class lines, studies demonstrating the limitations of expert judgment in these areas become fodder for class warfare and takedowns of wine snobs.

That’s fair. Many boorish people talking about the ethereal qualities of great wine probably can’t even identify cork taint because their impressions are dominated by the price tag and the wine label. But the classic defense of wine – that you need to study it to appreciate it – is also vindicated by Master Sommeliers. The open question – which is both editorial and empiric – is what it means for the industry that constant vigilance and substantial study is needed to dependably appreciate wine for the product quality alone. But the questions is relevant to the enjoyment of many other products and experiences that we enjoy in life

via The Science of Snobbery.

When Enlightenment Meets Science April 1, 2013

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The veteran meditators in the MRI could do each of the resting states perfectly, but when it came to creating a contrasting condition, they were helpless. They had lost the ability to “let their minds wander” because they had long ago shed the habit of entertaining discursive narrative thoughts. They no longer worried about how their hair looked, or their to-do lists, or whether people thought they were annoying. Their minds were largely quiet. When thoughts did come – and they did still come – these subjects reported that the thoughts had a different quality, an unfixated quality. The thought “This MRI machine is extremely loud” might arise, but it would quickly evaporate. Thoughts seemed to emerge as-needed in response to different situations and would then disappear crisply into the clear backdrop of consciousness. In other words, these practitioners were always meditating.

This turned out to be the least dramatic of Vago’s discoveries. With the two most experienced meditators, something even more surprising happened, something that, to the knowledge of the investigators involved, had never before been captured on any kind of brain imaging technology.

Lying on their padded gurneys in the center of the humming MRI in this famous research hospital in the heart of East Boston and Harvard Medical School, each of the two research subjects suddenly … disappeared.

Har-Prakash Khalsa, a 52-year old Canadian mail carrier and yoga teacher – and one of the veterans to whom this happened – describes his experience:

“It’s a kind of pressure or momentum. I was in one of the rest states, and as I let go of it, I felt myself heading into a much bigger dissolution – a bigger ‘gone’ as Shinzen would call it. It felt impossible to resist.  My mind, body and world just collapsed.”

A few moments later – blinking, refreshed, reformatted – Har-Prakash returned to consciousness, not at all sure how he was to supposed to fit this experience into the research protocol. He couldn’t indicate it with a button press even if he wanted to: there was no one present to press the button.

This wasn’t rest – it was annihilation.

via Understanding Enlightenment Could Change Science – Psychology TomorrowPsychology Tomorrow Magazine.

Would you rather be Right or Happy? March 16, 2013

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When you argue and win, your brain floods with different hormones: adrenaline and dopamine, which makes you feel good, dominant, even invincible. It’s a the feeling any of us would want to replicate. So the next time we’re in a tense situation, we fight again. We get addicted to being right.

lionHenpeckedI’ve coached dozens of incredibly successful leaders who suffer from this addiction. They are extremely good at fighting for their point of view (which is indeed often right) yet they are completely unaware of the dampening impact that behavior has on the people around them. If one person is getting high off his or her dominance, others are being drummed into submission, experiencing the fight, flight, freeze or appease response I described before, which diminishes their collaborative impulses.

Luckily, there’s another hormone that can feel just as good as adrenaline: oxytocin. It’s activated by human connection and it opens up the networks in our executive brain, or prefrontal cortex, further increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to sharing. Your goal as a leader should be to spur the production of oxytocin in yourself and others, while avoiding (at least in the context of communication) those spikes of cortisol and adrenaline.

(more…)

With Age Comes Happiness February 20, 2013

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So why do we tend to think of older people as primarily depressed and unhappy, a perception that seems to be supported by the fact that the elderly have the highest suicide rates, when they themselves often report being happier now than when they were younger — and when studies show well-being rises after mid-life?

One reason for the happiness and suicide rates being at-odds could be related to the fact that happiness ratings often rely on general population figures, not measures of particular individuals, which can be much more varied. As data from several Scandinavian countries shows, it’s possible for a country to lead the world in both population happiness and suicide rates. While the reasons aren’t clear — perhaps the cold, dark winters are difficult to take for some, or perhaps being depressed when everyone around you is happy is even harder to take — the conflicting trends do occur simultaneously.

“It does seem like a paradox, but both happiness and depression can increase with age,” says Sutin. It is possible to swing between the two states and it is also possible that age pushes people to one extreme or another. “With age, people tend to become more emotional and experience both sadness and happiness,” she says. That could account in part for why we tend to see the elderly as sad: the sadness is both more visible and more congruent with our expectations about this stage of life.“

Especially when we’re young, it’s really easy to look at older adults and see the loss: loss of youth, loss of mobility, loss of loved ones,” Sutin says. “We assume that all of that loss would make older adults unhappy. It’s harder to see the benefits of aging: feelings of pride for children and grandchildren, a meaningful career, more confidence, wisdom. There are a lot of reasons to be happy in older adulthood, but they may not be as visible as the losses.” When they are, however, it turns out that happiness is one of the benefits that come with age.

via With Age Comes Happiness | TIME.com.

The Disadvantage of Smarts June 21, 2012

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Why would being a good problem solver mean you were less good at the ordinary more instinctive behavior?

General intelligence evolved to solve evolutionarily novel problems, so intelligent people are more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values. They are more likely to recognize and develop tastes for things that our ancestors did not have 100,000 years ago. For example, more intelligent people are more likely to be left-wing liberals because our ancestors were “conservative” by the contemporary American definition—they only cared about the well-being of their friends and family. They are more likely to be atheist because the preferred theory in evolutionary psychology is that humans are designed to believe in God.

Really?

Humans appear to be designed to be paranoid; they are designed to see intentional agents behind natural phenomena. This is because making the mistake of thinking that a natural event has an intentional agent behind it is less potentially costly than being oblivious and thinking that an intentional event, like someone trying to kill you, has a coincidental cause. The paranoid outlive the oblivious. Belief in God may be a consequence of this tendency. Intelligent people are more likely to be nocturnal because humans are designed to wake up when the sun comes up and go to sleep when the sun goes down. They are more likely to be homosexual, because humans are evolutionarily designed to reproduce heterosexually. They are more likely to enjoy instrumental music because music in its evolutionary origin was vocal, and they are more likely to consume alcohol, cigarettes and drugs because all of these substances are evolutionarily novel.

via Quick study: Satoshi Kanazawa on intelligence: The disadvantage of smarts | The Economist.

Why Smart people Are Stupid June 14, 2012

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Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology led by Richard West at James Madison University and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto suggests that, in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors. Although we assume that intelligence is a buffer against bias—that’s why those with higher S.A.T. scores think they are less prone to these universal thinking mistakes—it can actually be a subtle curse.

via Research Shows That the Smarter People Are, the More Susceptible They Are to Cognitive Bias : The New Yorker.

New Insights Into Pleasure & Addiction June 25, 2011

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Do you, like many, think that drug addicts become drug addicts be­cause they derive greater reward from getting high than others? The biology says no. They actually seem to want it more but like it less.  The scientific definition of addiction is actually rooted in the brain’s inability to experience pleasure.

“There are variants in genes that turn down the function of dopamine signaling within the pleasure circuit,” explains Linden,  a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology.” For people who carry these gene variants, their muted dopamine systems lead to blunted pleasure circuits, which in turn affects their pleasure-seeking activities, he says. “In order to get to that same set point of pleasure that others would get to easily — maybe with two drinks at the bar and a laugh with friends — you need six drinks at the bar to get the same thing.”

It is important to realize that our pleasure circuits are the result of a combination of genetics, stress and life experience, beginning as early as the womb. Crucially, brain imaging studies show that giving to charity, paying taxes, and receiving information about future events all activate the same neural plea­sure circuit that’s engaged by heroin or orgasm or fatty foods.

via ‘The Compass Of Pleasure': Why Some Things Feel So Good : NPR.

3 theories on how Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities November 26, 2010

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Siblings share both genes and environment. Why, then, are they often so different? For most of history, psychologists thought of the study of siblings as backwater: Parenting was important — siblings were not.

Then in the 1980s, a researcher named Robert Plomin published a surprising paper in which he reviewed the three main ways psychologists had studied siblings: physical characteristics, intelligence and personality. According to Plomin, in two of these areas, siblings were really quite similar.

Physically, siblings tended to differ somewhat, but they were a lot more similar on average when compared to children picked at random from the population. That’s also true of cognitive abilities.

“The surprise,” says Plomin, “is when you turn to personality.” Turns out that on tests that measure personality — stuff like how extroverted you are, how conscientious — siblings are practically like strangers.

Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities : NPR.

Middle-Aged Myths May 1, 2010

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A lot of the myths we think of in terms of middle age, myths that I grew up with, turn out to be based on almost nothing. Things like the midlife crisis or the empty nest syndrome. We’re brought up to think we’ll enter middle age and it will be kind of gloomy. But as scientists look at real people, they find out the contrary. We used to think we lost 30 percent of our brain cells as we age. But that’s not true. We keep them.

One study of men found that well-being peaked at age 65. Over and over they find that middle age, instead of being a time of depression and decline, is actually a time of being more optimistic overall. (more…)

Why Teenagers Can’t Learn March 22, 2010

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…this temporary learning deficit could be traced to a remarkable change that occurs at puberty in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is involved in remembering places and integrating other kinds of learning. The change affects the GABA neurotransmitter system. GABA, which is present in all mammals, inhibits or down-regulates nerve signals, as opposed to exciting them; this calming, relaxing system is activated by tranquilizers like Valium and the popular sleep drug Ambien, which attach to GABA receptors and act similarly to GABA. But at puberty, female mice experience a 700% increase in an unusual GABA receptor that helps calm the nervous system, except when under stress.

GABA is not the only neurotransmitter system that goes out of whack at puberty, Giedd notes. Recent studies at Harvard suggest that dopamine receptors also temporarily proliferate, a change that might be related to the impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviors seen in teens. These bursts of brain changes seem to be connected to developmentally sensitive periods, says Giedd.

(See “Secrets of the Teen Brain.”)

Does the Web change how we think? February 21, 2010

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” By flooding us with information, the Internet also “causes more confidence and illusions of knowledge” (Nassim Taleb of MIT, author of The Black Swan), but makes our knowledge seem “more fragile,” since “for every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact” (Kevin Kelly, cofounder of Wired).

Even more intriguing are the (few) positive changes in thinking the Internet has caused. The hyperlinked Web helps us establish “connections between ideas, facts, etc.,” suggests Csikszentmihalyi. “Result: more integrated thought?” For Kelly, the uncertainty resulting from the ubiquity of facts and “antifacts” fosters “a kind of liquidity” in thinking, making it “more active, less contemplative.” Science historian George Dyson believes the Internet’s flood of information has altered the process of creativity: what once required “collecting all available fragments of information to assemble a framework of knowledge” now requires “removing or ignoring unnecessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.” Creativity by destruction rather than assembly.

via Your Brain Online | Print Article | Newsweek.com.

The Power Of Negative Thinking July 8, 2009

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Wood, Lee and Perunovic conclude that unfavorable thoughts about ourselves intrude very easily, especially among those of us with low self-esteem — so easily and so persistently that even when a positive alternative is presented, it just underlines how awful we believe we are.

The paper provides support for newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to reject and fight them. In the fighting, we not only often fail but can also make things worse. Mindfulness and meditation techniques, in contrast, can teach people to put their shortcomings into a larger, more realistic perspective. Call it the power of negative thinking.

via Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking – TIME.

Delaying Gratification – the New Frugality April 8, 2009

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cat_police_dogsThe brain has a limited capacity for self-regulation, so exerting willpower in one area often leads to backsliding in others. The good news, however, is that practice increases willpower capacity, so that in the long run, buying less now may improve our ability to achieve future goals — like losing those 10 pounds we gained when we weren’t out shopping.

No one knows why willpower can grow with practice but it must reflect some biological change in the brain. Perhaps neurons in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for planning behavior, or in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with cognitive control, use blood sugar more efficiently after repeated challenges. Or maybe one of the chemical messengers that neurons use to communicate with one another is produced in larger quantities after it has been used up repeatedly, thereby improving the brain’s willpower capacity.

Whatever the explanation, consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower — and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life. Thanks to frugal Maria for this article

via Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind – New York Times.

The Science of Sarcasm June 3, 2008

Posted by tkcollier in Humor, Life.
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Katherine P. Rankin, a Neuropsychologist, Studies Sarcasm – NYTimes.com
What you may not have realized is that perceiving sarcasm, the smirking put-down that buries its barb by stating the opposite, requires a nifty mental trick that lies at the heart of social relations: figuring out what others are thinking. Those who lose the ability, whether through a head injury or the frontotemporal dementias afflicting the patients in Dr. Rankin’s study, just do not get it when someone says during a hurricane, “Nice weather we’re having.”

“The left hemisphere does language in the narrow sense, understanding of individual words and sentences,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “But it’s now thought that the appreciation of humor and language that is not literal, puns and jokes, requires the right hemisphere.”

Are We Born Expecting Fairness? March 22, 2008

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Lifestyle.
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the official site of Michael Shermer » The Mind of the Market
Behavioral economists employ an experimental procedure called the Ultimatum Game. It goes something like this. You are given $100 to split between yourself and your game partner. Whatever division of the money you propose, if your partner accepts it, you are both richer by that amount. How much should you offer? Why not suggest a $90-$10 split? If your game partner is a rational self-interested money-maximizer he isn’t going to turn down a free ten bucks, is he? He is. Research shows that proposals that deviate much beyond a $70–$30 split are usually rejected. Take the Test yourself.

Why? Because they aren’t fair. Says who? Says the moral emotion of “reciprocal altruism,” which evolved over the Paleolithic eons to demand fairness on the part of our potential exchange partners. “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine” only works if I know you will respond with something approaching parity. The moral sense of fairness is hardwired into our brains and is an emotion shared by most people and primates tested for it. Fairness evolved as a stable strategy for maintaining social harmony in our ancestors’ small bands, where cooperation was reinforced and became the rule while freeloading was punished and became the exception. (more…)

Heavy metal a comfort for the bright child March 21, 2007

Posted by tkcollier in Lifestyle, Music.
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Heavy metal a comfort for the bright child | Science News | Connected | Telegraph
Intelligent teenagers often listen to heavy metal music to cope with the pressures associated with being talented, according to research.

The results of a study of more than 1,000 of the brightest five per cent of young people will come as relief to parents whose offspring, usually long-haired, are devotees of Iron Maiden, AC/DC and their musical descendants.

Researchers found that, far from being a sign of delinquency and poor academic ability, many adolescent “metalheads” are extremely bright and often use the music to help them deal with the stresses and strains of being gifted social outsiders.

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