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Mind & Brain – Weekly Update #05 (Dec 22-28)

ScienceDaily Weekly Update #05

The last update before the start of the next year. Mind & Brain – Weekly Updates #05 with the 10 articles from ScienceDaily that I found interesting.

(1) Selflessness — Core Of All Major World Religions — Has Neuropsychological Connection

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — All spiritual experiences are based in the brain. That statement is truer than ever before, according to a University of Missouri neuropsychologist. An MU study has data to support a neuropsychological model that proposes spiritual experiences associated with selflessness are related to decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain.

The findings with Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns imply that selflessness can be learned and achieved through conscious efforts such as meditation or prayer. The sense of transcendence that is experienced through these practices is similar for all religions and beliefs.

University of Missouri-Columbia (2008, December 22). Selflessness — Core Of All Major World Religions — Has Neuropsychological Connection. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124156.htm

(2) Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?

ScienceDaily (Dec. 23, 2008) — The fact that many cultures emphasize the concept of “noblesse oblige” (the idea that with great power and prestige come responsibilities) suggests that power may diminish a tendency to help others. Psychologist Gerben A. van Kleef (University of Amsterdam) and his colleagues from University of California, Berkeley, examined how power influences emotional reactions to the suffering of others.

Undergraduate students were identified with the help of a questionnaire as either have a high or low sense of power. Then they were randomly paired up and asked to share with their partner an event that caused them emotional suffering and pain. Students who had a higher sense of power experienced less compassion and distress while they were listening to the suffering of another than students with a low-power sense. High power students also had a weaker desire to get to know and establish a relationship with their partner. The researchers hypothesized that those identified with a high sense of power have a tendency to express less compassion and distress, which in turn reinforces their social power.

Association for Psychological Science (2008, December 23). Are Power And Compassion Mutually Exclusive?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124154.htm

(3) Skipping Sleep May Signal Problems For Coronary Arteries

ScienceDaily (Dec. 23, 2008) — One extra hour of sleep per night appears to decrease the risk of coronary artery calcification, an early step down the path to cardiovascular disease, a research team based at the University of Chicago Medical Center reports. The benefit of one hour of additional sleep was comparable to the gains from lowering systolic blood pressure by 17 mm Hg.

27 percept of the participants who had slept less than 5 hours per night had calcified arteries.

11 percept of the participants who had slept between 5 to 7 hours per night had calcified arteries.

6 percept of the participants who had slept more than 7 hours per night had calcified arteries.

The study was conducted with 495 participants and showed that the sleep benefit was greater for women but no racial differences were shown. Researchers hypothesize that either (1) an unknown factor causes these differing calcification rates, (2) the reduced blood pressure during sleep, or (3) some role of stress hormones [or I could imagine a possible combination of all three suggestions].

University of Chicago Medical Center (2008, December 23). Skipping Sleep May Signal Problems For Coronary Arteries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081223172652.htm

(4) College Students Find Comfort In Their Pets During Hard Times

ScienceDaily (Dec. 28, 2008) — A new study suggests that college students may handle stressful situations better if they have a pet.

About 350 college students who lived with a dog, cat, or both reported to be less lonely and depress.

Ohio State University (2008, December 28). College Students Find Comfort In Their Pets During Hard Times. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081223091318.htm

(5) Cognitive Computing: Building A Machine That Can Learn From Experience

ScienceDaily (Dec. 23, 2008) — Suppose you want to build a computer that operates like the brain of a mammal. How hard could it be? After all, there are supercomputers that can decode the human genome, play chess and calculate prime numbers out to 13 million digits.

Sorting through multiple streams of large amounts of data, learn from experience, using small amount of space, and power efficient as a light bulb. Our brains are the proof that it is possible. Researchers are working on a project that doesn’t necessarily try to replicate the mammalian or human brain but build something along the same lines. One approach being considered is to build something similar to a   “simple” mammalian brain and then add complexity later on. 

University of Wisconsin-Madison (2008, December 23). Cognitive Computing: Building A Machine That Can Learn From Experience. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081221215537.htm

(6) Genes May Influence Popularity, Study Of College Students Finds

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — A groundbreaking study of popularity by a Michigan State University scientist has found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors.

Researchers claimed to have found a gene that is associated with rule-breaking and college students with this gene were identified to be more popular among previously unacquainted peers. The idea is that different genes predispose us to certain social behavior. [It is important not to forget that an associated is not a cause. Therefore we cannot say that these genes are the source of this behavior and even saying that they predispose us towards certain social behaviors is a speculation based on the found association. Gene interactions will need to be studied in the future to further understand the relationship between genes and actual behavior patterns.]

Michigan State University (2008, December 22). Genes May Influence Popularity, Study Of College Students Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222074607.htm

(7) Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible

ScienceDaily (Dec. 29, 2008) — Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that the human brain—once thought to be a seriously flawed decision maker—is actually hard-wired to allow us to make the best decisions possible with the information we are given.

University of Rochester (2008, December 29). Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 28, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081224215542.htm 

(8) Chocolate, Wine And Tea Improve Brain Performance

ScienceDaily (Dec. 24, 2008) — All that chocolate might actually help finish the bumper Christmas crossword over the seasonal period. According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance.

Participants who consumed chocolate, wine, and tea performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not. 

University of Oxford (2008, December 24). Chocolate, Wine And Tea Improve Brain Performance. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081223123530.htm

(9) Shape Changes In Aroma-producing Molecules Determine The Fragrances We Detect

ScienceDaily (Dec. 26, 2008) — Shakespeare wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But would it if the molecules that generate its fragrance were to change their shape?

City College of New York (2008, December 26). Shape Changes In Aroma-producing Molecules Determine The Fragrances We Detect. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222163053.htm

(10) Blind Man Walking: With No Visual Awareness, Man Navigates Obstacle Course Flawlessly

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2008) — Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that people can successfully navigate an obstacle course even after brain damage has left them with no awareness of the ability to see and no activity in the visual cortex, a region of the brain’s cortex that is primarily responsible for processing visual inputs.

Cell Press (2008, December 25). Blind Man Walking: With No Visual Awareness, Man Navigates Obstacle Course Flawlessly. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 29, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081222143507.htm


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