Smooth-talking charmers: Why psychopaths can be so attractive to the unsuspecting

psychopaths dating

© JSTOCK/Shutterstock
Young men with stronger psychopathic traits tend to have higher social intelligence and more relaxed attitudes towards casual sex.

The old cliché of psychopaths being smooth-talking charmers might not be far wrong, at least according to a new study.

The study carried out by psychologists from Brock University and Carleton University in Canada claims that young women are more attracted to men with stronger psychopathic personality traits, despite these prospective partners having little interest in a committed relationship.

Reporting in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, the researchers wanted to follow up on “reports” that psychopathic traits were attractive in potential romantic partners, despite the known pitfalls of entering interpersonal relationships with psychopaths.

For the first part of their study, the researchers recruited 46 men, aged 17 to 25, and gauged psychopathy and social intelligence using a filmed fake date scenario with a female research assistant for about 2 minutes. According to the study, the majority of the male participants (89 percent) self-reported as heterosexual.

The men were asked questions like “what do you like to do on a first date?” or “what do you think is most important in a relationship?” but otherwise the conservation was left to flow. The male participants also completed assessments of psychopathy, social intelligence, and sociosexuality (their tendency to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships).

The video clips were then shown to 108 young women (in their first or second year at university), the majority of whom self-reported as heterosexual (89 percent), who were asked to rate each guy on general attractiveness, sexual attractiveness, and confidence. Meanwhile, another group of 11 women were given photographs of the men and were asked to rate them on physical attractiveness.

They found the young men with stronger psychopathic traits tended to have higher social intelligence and more relaxed attitudes towards casual sex. Members of the opposite sex also found the men with more psychopathic traits as more attractive, even after controlling for physical attractiveness ratings.

Given what we know about people with psychopathic tendencies, this is perhaps surprising. Psychopathy is one of the original “dark triad” personality traits, alongside Machiavellianism, and narcissism, although other traits that come under the umbrella include egoism, spitefulness, self-interest, moral disengagement, and physiological entitlement. (Want to know how you score on the dark triad personality test? Take the quiz here.)

While these might not necessarily sound like attractive qualities on the surface, the researchers argue that people with these traits appear to possess other traits that make them appear desirable, especially in regards to a close relationship. Nevertheless, the study only looked at how attractive mostly heterosexual women found men with psychopathic tendencies; it remains unclear whether men find women with psychopathic traits attractive and likewise with same-sex couples.

“Psychopathic men have a personality style that makes them appear attractive to women in dating encounters. This may be because they are extra confident or feel at ease or know exactly what to say to get the attention of women,” lead author Kristopher J. Brazil told PsyPost.

“More research needs to be done on this, but whatever the reason, our research shows that psychopathic traits certainly don’t seem ‘disordered’ like dominant clinical approaches assume. There is something in this personality style that may provide individual benefits (not that they don’t also have costs), which makes us think it is not a disorder.”

Saving lives or chasing dollars? US pediatricians push stomach surgeries for children to treat obesity

bariatric surgery children

Literally gutting an adult is one thing. Irreversibly surgically altering an adolescent is something else altogether. Surgeons might be fine with addressing just the quantity of food consumed, without any thought to its quality – but that hardly sounds like a general recipe for success.

A recent proposal by US pediatricians to endorse bariatric treatments for children is raising concerns that it is driven primarily by financial interests. Critics say stomach surgeries won’t fix the root causes of the problem.

Almost 10 percent of children in the US aged 12-15 and 14 percent of those aged 16-19 are considered obese, according to the most recent data cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an Illinois-based professional association. Almost 4.5 million American adolescents are severely obese, double the number recorded in 1999, the AAP says.

To combat the problem, the AAP has published a new policy recently, recommending the use of bariatric surgeries as a safe therapy for childhood obesity. This was quickly endorsed by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), and received favorable coverage in the mainstream media.

Matter of social justice, or money?

Ann O’Connor is a pediatric surgeon specializing in bariatric procedures for adolescents at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She told CNN that the new policy is likely to encourage hesitant pediatricians to embrace bariatric surgery for their patients, so then “we can hopefully use this as leverage for insurance companies to actually approve and pay for these procedures.”

One study from 2015 calculated the cost of the surgery and accompanying care at north of $42,000, which is hardly pocket change. Health insurance companies are far more reluctant to approve surgeries for children than for adults. According to AAP data, insurance coverage was approved for only 47 percent of applicants under 18, compared to 85 percent of adults who qualified for the procedure.

Dr. Kirk Reichard, a bariatric surgeon at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware and one of the authors of the AAP policy statement, has argued that expanding insurance access is basically a social justice issue, as obesity in children disproportionately “affects racial and ethnic minorities, and the economically disadvantaged, especially for girls.”

While surgery is costlier than other treatments in the short term, and data on the long-term effectiveness in adolescents is limited, several studies suggest that the treatment could become cost-effective within five years of the operation, the AAP paper said.

Treating the root causes – or not

US doctors have a reputation for preferring surgical solutions far more than their colleagues around the globe, possibly because surgeries are cut and dry compared to less invasive treatments, and therefore much easier to bill and present as effective therapies.

On the other hand, the cost of healthcare in the US has skyrocketed, with Americans paying an estimated $3.65 trillion in 2018, according to government data. Critics of AAP’s recommendations suggest childhood obesity ought to be treated with lifestyle changes and counseling, rather than removing most of the stomach from a still-growing human being.

“I don’t approve of that type of surgery, especially since they don’t address the root causes of this obesity,” Dr. Dietrich Wittel, a Canadian physician, told RT. “It is very typical for the North American so-called high-tech medical approach, where nutrition always takes a back seat.”

Losing weight is not just a function of eating less, but of what one eats as well as physical activity. With cars dominating cities and countryside alike, North American children hardly walk anywhere, and are surrounded by cheap junk food options at home and in school, Dr. Wittel added.

“When a child has an eating disorder issue, that’s not just about food,” Dr. Lisa Palmer, a Florida-based psychologist, told RT. Long-term success of any treatment looks at what’s causing the problem, she added, and in many cases people who undergo these surgeries continue to eat the wrong things, just perforce in fewer quantities.

Dr. Steven Gundry was a renowned heart surgeon before becoming a nutritionist in 2002. He has treated many patients who had the bariatric procedure only to gain back the weight. Most were never told they would have to spend the rest of their lives taking supplements and otherwise compensating for having bariatric surgery.

“This is absolutely the wrong way to treat obesity,” Gundry told RT. “You can’t fix a behavior with surgery.”

Nutrition is a sore subject in the US, where physicians still think in terms of “calories in, calories out” and swear by the “food pyramid” put forth by Harvard experts decades ago, urging Americans to eat more carbohydrates while avoiding meat and fats.

Battle of the bulge

A recent international study finding that health dangers of red meat have been greatly exaggerated has infuriated both Harvard-leaning nutritionists, as well as public health officials, who bemoaned the effect this would have on their efforts to ban meat for the sake of the environment.

Whether due to misguided nutrition advice, lifestyle choices or something else altogether, over 70 percent of Americans were considered overweight or obese by 2016. The number of bariatric surgeries has risen in recent years as well, from 115,000 in 2011 to 228,000 in 2017, according to ASMBS statistics.

Vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG), or removal of up to 80 percent of a person’s stomach, accounts for 60 percent of the procedures now.

Literally gutting an adult is one thing. Irreversibly surgically altering an adolescent is something else altogether. Surgeons might be fine with addressing just the quantity of food consumed, without any thought to its quality – but that hardly sounds like a general recipe for success.

Brain takes just less than 300 milliseconds to recognize familiar music

vinyl record lp

The human brain can recognise a familiar song within 100 to 300 milliseconds, highlighting the deep hold favourite tunes have on our memory, a UCL study finds.

Anecdotally the ability to recall popular songs is exemplified in game shows such as ‘Name That Tune’, where contestants can often identify a piece of music in just a few seconds.

For this study, published in Scientific Reports, researchers at the UCL Ear Institute wanted to find out exactly how fast the brain responded to familiar music, as well as the temporal profile of processes in the brain which allow for this.

The main participant group consisted of five men and five women who had each provided five songs, which were very familiar to them. For each participant researchers then chose one of the familiar songs and matched this to a tune, which was similar (in tempo, melody, harmony, vocals and instrumentation) but which was known to be unfamiliar to the participant.

Participants then passively listened to 100 snippets (each less than a second) of both the familiar and unfamiliar song, presented in random order. Around 400 seconds was listened to in total. Researchers used electro-encephalography (EEG) imaging, which records electrical activity in the brain, and pupillometry (a technique that measures pupil diameter – considered a measure of arousal).

The study found the human brain recognised ‘familiar’ tunes from 100 milliseconds (0.1 of a second) of sound onset, with the average recognition time between 100ms and 300ms. This was first revealed by rapid pupil dilation, likely linked to increased arousal associated with the familiar sound, followed by cortical activation related to memory retrieval.

No such differences were found in a control group, compromising of international students who were unfamiliar with all the songs ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’.

Senior author, Professor Maria Chait, (UCL Ear Institute) said: “Our results demonstrate that recognition of familiar music happens remarkably quickly.

“These findings point to very fast temporal circuitry and are consistent with the deep hold that highly familiar pieces of music have on our memory.”

Professor Chait added: “Beyond basic science, understanding how the brain recognises familiar tunes is useful for various music-based therapeutic interventions.

“For instance, there is a growing interest in exploiting music to break through to dementia patients for whom memory of music appears well preserved despite an otherwise systemic failure of memory systems.

“Pinpointing the neural pathway and processes which support music identification may provide a clue to understanding the basis of this phenomena.”

Study limitations

‘Familiarity’ is a multifaceted concept. In this study, songs were explicitly selected to evoke positive feelings and memories. Therefore, for the ‘main’ group the ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’ songs did not just differ in terms of recognisability but also in terms of emotional engagement and affect.

While the songs are referred to as ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’, the effects observed may also be linked with these other factors.

While care was taken in the song matching process, this was ultimately done by hand due to lack of availability of appropriate technology. Advancements in automatic processing of music may improve matching in the future.

Another limitation is the fact that only one ‘familiar’ song was used per subject. This likely limited the demands on the memory processes studied.

Childhood obesity: Children living close to junk food outlets more likely to be overweight, says New York University study

childhood obesity fast food fries

Among New York City schoolchildren who live within a half-block of a fast food outlet, 20% are obese and 38% are overweight, shows analysis.

The closer a child lives to a fast-food restaurant or a corner store, the more likely the child will be obese or overweight. Just having fast-food outlets a block farther away, and potentially less convenient or accessible, can significantly lessen children’s chances of being obese or overweight, according to the analysis by researchers at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine.

As measured in city blocks, closeness to fast and convenience food sellers can impact a student’s chances of becoming obese, says the study, which concludes that for one million children attending New York City public schools, “their choice of what to eat depends on which food sources are close to where they live.”

The researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) of 3,507,542 children, between the ages of five and 18. They were attending New York City public schools between 2009 and 2013.

Among children who lived within a half-block of (or roughly 0.025 miles from) a fast food outlet, 20% were obese, and 38% were overweight, found the research team. Similarly, children who lived within a half-block of corner stores or bodegas, 21% were obese and 40% overweight, says the analysis published in the Obesity journal.

“About 20% of New York public school kids are obese. This is a problem not just in New York City, but nationally. This (problem) is large, growing, and we do not yet have a set of sustained policy-oriented solutions to fix it. So I think understanding and looking for what is going to help turn the tide on childhood obesity, in particular, is critical and important”, says Dr. Brian Elbel, senior investigator of the study.

For every half or full block farther away from that students lived from unhealthy food sources, obesity figures dropped from between 1 percent to more than 4 percent, depending on the type of food outlet, according to the study authors.

“Our study indicates that living very close to food outlets with a lot of unhealthy, junk food choices is likely not good for reducing the risk of children being overweight and/or obese”, says Dr. Elbel, who is an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

According to Dr. Elbel, even a drop in obesity rates of just a few percentage points translates into potentially saving thousands of children from obesity and its associated health problems, including increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and even early death.

The findings, says the team, could support policies that limit fast food outlets and corner stores to keep them at a minimum distance away from housing complexes or neighborhoods with persistently high rates of obesity.

Childhood obesity is a major health issue in the US. The study says that according to estimates, about one in five school-age children in the US have an excess of body fat and are now obese – that is, they have a body mass index at or above the 95 percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. This, says the team, is a tripling of rates since the 1970s.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the US. “Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the US, putting children and adolescents at risk for poor health. For children and adolescents aged 2-19 years, the prevalence of obesity was 18.5% and affected about 13.7 million children and adolescents. Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds”, state CDC estimates.

The current study stemmed from an analysis of public-school records from kindergarten through high school, which included periodic measurements of children’s height and weight. Researchers used mapping software to compare that information with how far every child lived from sellers of both junk and healthy foods at fast food outlets, corner stores, sit-down restaurants, and grocery stores.

The researchers found no increase in obesity risk based on the distance from home to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants. According to the researchers, there is not a lot of evidence that supermarkets and wait-service restaurants are going to be particularly influential on children’s health, at least for a dense, urban place like New York City.

“What the study found is that living really close to certain types of food outlets, particularly corner stores and fast food, which generally sell unhealthy food, is not good for child obesity. Living beyond this really close threshold actually does not matter. At the same time, living close to supermarkets and wait-service restaurants, often thought to be healthier foods, particularly supermarkets, does not tend to impact children’s obesity. Hence, the positive benefits one thought we might get from kids living really close to some of these healthier food stores actually do not turn out to be there,” says Dr. Elbel.

The brain has distinct areas for all manner of ideas, research suggests

MRI Brain Scans

Brain scans can tell more than we thought about our thoughts and feelings, research suggests.

Researchers have deciphered the abstract concepts people are thinking about – for example justice, truth and forgiveness – merely by analysing their brain scans.

Until now, this type of “thought decoding” has been largely confined to concrete concepts such as apple and hammer. The new findings, however, suggest slippery ideas that are not of the physical world also inhabit distinct parts of the brain.

The study is the work of psychologist Marcel Just and graduate student Robert Vargas from Carnegie Mellon University in the US.

It makes intuitive sense, they say, that physical or “concrete” objects, such as hammers and apples, will be represented in the brain similarly between people. Trade tools and fruit are, by nature, unambiguous.

It’s a contention born out in the science of neural decoding, where patterns of activity on brain scans are used to work out what someone is thinking.

Just, for example, has used brain scans to predict when a person is reading sentences that refer to concrete things, such as “the flood damaged the hospital”.

But given the fuzziness of abstract ideas like justice and ethics, intuitions cut the other way – could we really share common brain space for them too?

To find out, Vargas and Just put nine people in an MRI scanner and flashed an array of 28 abstract concepts at them, shown as words.

Those airy notions came from the worlds of maths (e.g. probability, multiplication), science (gravity, heat), society (gossip, intimidation), emotion (happiness, anger), law (ethics, crime), metaphysics (causality, necessity) and religion (deity, faith).

The pair then did a painstaking analysis of the scans that combined machine learning with something called multivoxel pattern analysis to look for similarities in the participants’ brain responses.

Abstract ideas, it turns out, are less mercurial than we thought.

The researchers were able to nail down the concepts people had in mind just by looking at their brain scans. And they did it with an average accuracy of .82 on a scale where 0.5 is mere chance.

“For me, the most exciting result of this study was that we were able to predict the neural activation patterns for individual abstract concepts across people,” says Vargas.

“It is wild to think that my concept of probability and spirituality is neurally similar to the next person’s, even if their experience of spirituality is different.”

The two then did a further analysis to map the brain’s representations of abstract concepts at a coarser “category” level.

They found some abstract ideas have social content, essential to forge understanding of things like gossip and intimidation. Other concepts lie on a continuum between the “internal” and “external” worlds, consciousness and gravity for example.

Perhaps most salient, though, is their finding that we tend to represent abstract ideas as words, in contrast to concrete objects which form “percepts” based on how they trigger the five senses.

“[A]bstract concepts both evoke less activation in regions associated with perceptual processing and evoke more activation in regions strongly associated with verbal processing,” the authors write in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Which raises the prickly question of whether the science of “mind reading” has now advanced to include the abstract.

“It’s flashy to call this work mind reading,” says Just.

“For me, it is proof that we have identified some of the elements of the brain’s indexing system – verbal representation, externality/internality and the social dimension – that our brains use to code concepts that have no physical manifestation in the world.”

Dangerously anemic vegetarian eats burger, gets back to having meat and becomes a butcher

Tammi Jonas

That must have been some burger!

Tammi Jonas, a longtime vegetarian living in Victoria, Australia, had a surprising — but undeniable — craving for a hamburger while pregnant with her third child. Just one prime patty after many meat-free years.

Now, she’s a professional butcher and a pig farmer.

The 49-year-old stopped eating meat when she was 19 — after reading Australian philosopher Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation,” published in 1975. She maintained her V-card successfully through two pregnancies, but while carrying her third child, she also became “dangerously anemic.”

After the iron supplements failed, she pondered if protein would be the best way to get healthy for her and her baby.

“I was at work one day and just thought: ‘A burger would fix this,'” Jonas told 10 Daily.

Over time, the reluctant meat-eater gradually worked her way back into an omnivorous lifestyle.

“I went back to red meat, so beef and lamb, once a week throughout the pregnancy, and it was some years longer before I had any pork or poultry,” said Jonas, who explains that her beef with meat isn’t about killing animals.

“I never thought it was immoral to take an animal’s life for food,” she said. “I’ve always been comfortable with my place in the food chain, but I thought it was immoral to treat [animals] cruelly, to not allow them to go outside and breathe fresh air and to be confined in crowds in sheds.”

Jonas knew firsthand what went down on farms, having grown up on a cattle ranch in rural Oregon before moving to Australia in the ’90s. So her move back to the land didn’t surprise her.

“When you’re from land, it’s in your bones,” she explained.

Tammi jonas 2

Her foray into not only eating meat again, but actually producing it, comes from a motivation to make positive change. After a lot of research and planning, she and her husband, Stuart, decided to open a small, sustainable farm in Victoria’s Central Highlands, that promises to treat their porkers with respect.

“The penny dropped, and we realized that we were going to be farmers and, for me, I knew immediately pigs because they are some of the worst treated in industrial systems,” said Jonas of their decision to build Jonai Farms.

Although she fears that slaughtering the pigs off-site is too much for her hogs to handle — and she’s still coming to terms with that.

“I think they find all of that stressful, and we’d like to take that part of the stress out of our system and be able to walk them to a death they didn’t know was coming,” she said, adding that she feels “most justified” as a meat-eater when she knows they experienced “no fear, no pain.”

Jonas continues to support the cause of vegetarians, but hopes to find “the best way to eat on a finite planet,” and said farms like hers can “help reverse, or at least mitigate climate change.” She just hopes her vegetarian friends can accept her new lifestyle — while also calling out the booming plant-based meat industry.

“Hats off to you if you don’t want to participate in any livestock production, but try not to have too hard a go at those of us who are trying to restore landscapes with livestock,” she said, adding, “and doing a much better job of it than your vegan impossible burger.”


Thinking about death: High neural activity is linked to shorter lifespans

the thinker

© Flickr/Todd Martin

If there’s one thing that humans can’t stop thinking about, it’s death. But new research published in the journal Nature suggests that all that thinking might be the very thing that brings death on.

More precisely, researchers discovered that higher neural activity has a negative effect on longevity. Neural activity refers to the constant flow of electricity and signals throughout the brain, and excessive activity could be expressed in many ways; a sudden change in mood, a facial twitch, and so on.

“An exciting future area of research will be to determine how these findings relate to such higher-order human brain functions,” said professor of genetics and study co-author Bruce Yankner. While it’s probably not the case that thinking a thought reduces your lifespan in the same way smoking a cigarette does, the study didn’t determine whether actual thinking had an impact on lifespan — just neural activity in general.

The role of REST

To say this was an unexpected finding is an understatement. We expect that aging affects the brain, of course, but not that the brain affects aging. These results were so counterintuitive that the study took two additional years before it was published as the researchers gathered more data to convince their reviewers. Yankner was forbearing about the delay. “If you have a cat in your backyard, people believe you,” he said. “If you say you have a zebra, they want more evidence.”

Yankner and colleagues studied the nervous systems of a range of animals, including humans, mice, and Caenorhabditis elegans, or roundworm. What they found was that a protein called REST was the culprit behind high neural activity and faster aging.

First, they studied brain samples donated from deceased individuals aged between 60 and 100. Those that had lived longer — specifically individuals who were 85 and up — had unique gene expression profile in their brain cells. Genes related to neural excitation appeared to be underexpressed in these individuals. There was also significantly more REST protein in these cells, which made sense: REST’s job is to regulate the expression of various genes, and it’s also been shown to protect aging brains from diseases like dementia.

But in order to show that this wasn’t simply a coincidence, Yankner and colleagues amplified the REST gene in roundworm and mice. With more REST came quieter nervous systems, and with quieter nervous systems came longer lifespans in both animal models.

A path to longevity

mouse brain MRI

© Zullo et al., 2019
Normal mice (top) had much lower levels of neural activity than mice lacking the REST protein (bottom). Neural activity is color coded, with red indicating higher levels.

Higher levels of REST proteins appeared to activate a chain reaction that ultimately led to these increases in longevity. Specifically, REST suppressed the expression of genes that control for a variety of neural features related to excitation, like neurotransmitter receptors and the structure of synapses. The lower levels of activity activated a group of proteins known as forkhead transcription factors, which play a role in regulating the flow of genetic information in our cells. These transcription factors, in turn, affect a “longevity pathway” connected to signaling by the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1).

This longevity pathway has been identified by researchers before, often in connection with possible benefits to lifespan from fasting. Additionally, the insulin/IGF1 hormones are critical for cell metabolism and growth, features which relate to longevity in obvious ways.

The most exciting aspect of this research is that it offers targets for future research on longevity, possibly even allowing for the development of a longevity drug. For instance, anticonvulsant drugs work by suppressing the excessive neural firing that occurs during seizures, and in studies conducted on roundworms, they’ve also been shown to increase lifespan. This recent study shows that this connection might not be coincidental. Similarly, antidepressants that block serotonin activity have also been shown to increase lifespan. Dietary restriction has long been implicated in promoting longer lifespans as well. Dietary restriction lowers insulin/IGF1 signaling, which this study showed affects the REST protein and neural activity. More research will be needed to confirm or reject any of these possibilities, but all represent exciting new avenues to explore, possibly resulting in the extension of our lifespans.

Chemicals in consumer products linked to lower IQs in children

pregnancy chemical exposure

© Pixabay/Getty Images

Scientists find common chemicals can negatively impact pregnant women.

Researchers found that exposure to certain chemicals in consumer products during the first trimester of pregnancy is linked to lower IQ in children by age 7. Among the first of its kind, the study, carried out by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Karlstad University, Sweden, linked mixtures of suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals to prenatal neurodevelopment.

The research analyzed data from SELMA, a study of Swedish mothers and children during the first trimester of pregnancy, measuring 26 chemicals in the blood and urine of 718 mothers. The chemicals included bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastic food and drink containers, as well as pesticides, phthalates, and others. Some of the 26 are established to affect the endocrine (hormone) activity while others are suspected to do so.

The scientists revisited the families when children reached age 7, finding that the kids whose mothers had greater amounts of chemicals in their system while pregnant exhibited lower IQ scores. This particularly affected boys, whose scores were two points lower. From all the chemicals, the greatest contribution to lower IQ was found to be from the compound bisphenol F (BPF), a BPA-replacement.

Other potentially harmful chemicals included the pesticide chloropyrifos, polyfluoroalkyl substances from cleaning products, triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps, soft polyvinyl chloride plastics and phthalates, which are used in cosmetics as well as numerous other products like soaps, nail polish, hairspray, shower curtains, raincoats, car interiors and even dryer sheets, as reported Scientific American.

Many of the chemicals only stay in the body for a short period of time, indicating that even being exposed to them briefly can have a negative effect. Previous studies linked endocrine disruptors to neurodevelopmental issues in children.

Eva Tanner, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, put their study in perspective: “This study is significant because most studies evaluate one chemical at a time; however, humans are exposed to many chemicals at the same time, and multiple exposures may be harmful even when each individual chemical is at a low level,” said Tanner.

Professor Carl-Gustaf Bornehag of Karlstad University reiterated that being exposed to chemical mixtures in regular consumer products can affect the developing brains of children. Even chemicals that are supposed to be safer, like BPF, are not likely any better.

The scientists call for more research to confirm and expand upon their findings.

Check out the study here, published in Environment International.

Discovering Wholeness and Healing after Trauma

Healing Trauma

Dr. James Gordon is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist who uses self-care strategies and group support to help patients heal from psychological trauma. In this interview, he shares some of those strategies, which are also detailed in his book “The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma.”

Gordon is also the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) in Washington, D.C., and is a clinical professor at Georgetown Medical School. During his presidency, President Bill Clinton appointed Gordon chairman of the National Advisory Council to the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine.

Trauma Is a Virtually Inevitable Part of Life

According to Gordon, a recent U.S. survey found 60% of U.S. adults reported being significantly abused or neglected as children. Even if you had the good fortune to grow up in a loving and supportive family, you’re still likely going to experience some form of trauma at some point.

It could be a challenging separation or divorce, a child’s illness, chronic disease or the sudden death of a loved one. An astounding percentage of women also report having been raped or abused within a primary relationship.

“If we don’t experience trauma in our midlife, we certainly will if we live long enough to grow old,” Gordon says. “When we become frail and deal with the losses of people we love and with our own inevitable death, this understanding that trauma is a part of life is the wise teaching of religious and spiritual traditions.

All aboriginal people all over the planet understand this. I think in the modern Western world, we’ve come up with this idea that everything should be OK all the time.

We tend to believe there’s something really wrong if some misfortune comes to us or if we face a major challenge, and that makes it harder for us to deal with the challenges that inevitably come up.

The skills and tools I teach are ways of dealing with the trauma that comes to us and also ways of equipping ourselves to be more resilient when challenges inevitably do come.”

The Importance of Healing Childhood Trauma

In his book, Gordon addresses ACES, which is an acronym for “adverse childhood experiences.” He mentions that about a quarter of the adult population that is well-educated and financially secure report such experiences, and resolving the trauma from childhood is vital for health and well-being.

Typically, childhood trauma leaves far deeper scars than trauma inflicted later in life. Gordon explains:

“Childhood trauma, especially when it comes from those people whom we depend on — parents or other caregivers — is often much more severe, because these are the people to whom we look for comfort and care.

When they betray that trust, when they break that bond with us, we’re in a terrible bind because we have to keep on looking to them for care. We look to them for security.

At the same time, they may be betraying us on a daily basis … Even if it seems rather subtle, if you feel continuing disapproval … it goes very deep into the child, and the child has a sense that, ‘I’m not worthy. Maybe I should be treated badly. Maybe I’m not important after all.’ That stays with them through adult life.

One of the challenges and one of the issues that I address early on in ‘The Transformation’ is a need to become aware of these feelings that we carry around with us … Sometimes, for example, people will be mistrustful in their relationships as adults. They may wonder, ‘Well, why am I so mistrustful?’ They can come up with lots of reasons why.

But at a certain point, many people have a sense that, ‘There’s something going on. Maybe it’s not the people I’m meeting right now or the people I’m relating to right now. Maybe it has something to do with what happened back then.’

The trauma of childhood, first of all, needs to be realized. We need to understand that it actually happened. We need to come to accept it, and then we can begin to deal with it. It’s often … a more complicated process [than] dealing with a very major traumatic event that comes to us in our adult life.”

Healing the Trauma of War

Gordon founded CMBM in 1991. From the beginning, it was an educational organization. Initially, they trained clinicians in the U.S. on how to use techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, movement and self-expression through art and writing.

Shortly after the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, Gordon and Dr. Susan Lord, a family physician, traveled to Bosnia to see whether their work might be useful there. Heads of public health, the head of the Islamic University, the monsignor of the Catholic Church all welcomed them.

“We realized that the trauma had set in so deeply. The trauma had disturbed just about everyone’s physiology and their psychology.

What we saw were people in chronic fight-or-flight — anxious, agitated, drinking to subdue their symptoms — people who were withdrawn and unable to connect with each other because not only had the fight-or-flight response persisted, but they had also shut down to protect themselves (the freeze response).”

As soon as the war in Kosovo started, Gordon and Lord knew they needed to go there and start working on trauma support. “This is a lesson for anyone who is watching or listening to us: The time is to start as soon as you realize the trauma is there,” he says. Together with The Center for Mind-Body Medicine faculty, they trained 600 people in Kosovo, including all 240 who staffed the newly established community mental health system.

“Our model became central to all of mental health in Kosovo,” Gordon says. “Kosovo is actually the first country in the world where mind-body medicine is a completely integrated part of the health care system …

Some of the people we trained were teachers in a rural high school. They began to teach our method of self-care to high school students. Eighty percent of these students had had their homes destroyed and 20% had lost one or both parents. They were very severely traumatized kids.

The high school teachers formed small groups and taught the kids these techniques of self-care, the same ones that I present in ‘The Transformation.’

Eighty-five percent of the kids who began those groups with post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) — qualifying for that diagnosis — no longer had it after 11 weeks and those gains held at three months’ follow-up.

We published the research — the first randomized controlled trial of ANY intervention with war-traumatized children — in a major psychiatric journal. This is very important for many reasons. One is that the method works. The second is that you don’t need to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist to teach people these techniques … somebody who’s … learning them from [reading] ‘The Transformation’ can also get the same kind of benefits.”

Gordon was soon invited to come to Gaza by an Israeli and a Palestinian psychologist, both of whom were reporting the same thing: The trauma caused by the ongoing conflict was hurting the children, and they didn’t know what to do about it. Seventeen years later, CMBM is the only organization working on a large-scale with psychological trauma on both sides of that still very big and very painful divide.

Hopelessness to Healing 15 Years Later — An Example

During the 2014 war that killed some 2,000 people in Gaza, including 500 children, the CMBM team fanned out and began teaching in every part of the territory. Gordon tells the story of one 9-year-old girl named Azhaar Jendia:

In the first of a series of our groups … we ask everybody to draw three pictures … yourself … yourself with your biggest problem, [and] yourself with your problem solved. Usually, the second drawing helps people to focus on what the biggest problem is … There are so many things that are distressing. The drawing helps to focus.

The third drawing is usually very hopeful, because it taps into our imagination to create a solution to the problem.

In Azhaar’s second drawing, the biggest problem, she drew herself as a tiny little stick figure in the corner of the page with her mouth turned down in sadness. Occupying the page was a scene of carnage and destruction. Her home was falling down.

Overhead, there were planes that were bombing her home. On the ground, next to her destroyed home, soaked in red blood was her dead father. Next to him were two uncles … [and] her aunt, who were also killed in the bombing …

It was very distressing to see the second drawing. But the solution she came up with in the third drawing was even more distressing. In the solution, she was lying next to her father in a coffin in the ground. When I asked her what was going on, she said, ‘I am with my father again. He is dead. There is no reason for me to be alive. I want the Israelis to kill me.’

Five months after the war, and other kids in the group had similar kinds of pictures. In nine sessions, once again led by a teacher, Azhaar learned the practice of self-awareness and self-care. She learned different kinds of meditation. She used mental imagery. She moved her body actively to free up the stress and the tension.

Azhaar did written dialogues with some of the symptoms she was having. She drew a genogram, a family tree. She imagined the sources of support from her family.

In the final, ninth group, she did some drawings again. This time, when she drew who she wanted to be, which is equivalent to the solution to her problem, she drew herself in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck, the earpieces of the stethoscope in her ears and the resonator on the chest of a person lying on a table in front of her.

I said, ‘What’s going on here?’ She said, ‘I am a heart doctor. This is my patient on my examining table. Since the war in 2014 here in Gaza, so many people have hurt their hearts. I am taking care of them.’

There were five other figures standing next to the examining table. I said, ‘And who are these, Azhaar?’ She said, ‘Oh, those are my other patients. They’re waiting for me. There are many people who need my help.’

This is a very dramatic story of a little girl. Five months after the war, the only solution to her problem, to the destruction, to the loss, was to die, to be killed.

Coming through this group, learning how to regulate her body, regulate the fight-or-flight response with quiet meditation, how to break up fixed patterns and tension with movement, how to use imaginative techniques to come up with solutions to problems, she herself discovered a way to move forward with her life

This is what is possible, even for people who have been severely traumatized — not only to recover from the trauma and to build resilience, but to discover possibilities they have never even dreamed of before they were traumatized.”

The Fight-Or-Flight Response

While there are certainly other techniques for healing trauma, Gordon believes his approaches are foundational, as they help rebalance your body and nervous system. This alone can be transformative.

The basic idea is that when trauma occurs, whether the injury is to your body, mind or spirit, two basic processes are activated. The first is the fight-or-flight response, which when activated increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Blood is shunted from digestion into tensing muscles, heart and lungs. Stress hormones are produced to help you fight or run.

While crucial in acute situations of danger, the fight-or-flight response is meant to be turned on and back off quickly. As soon as you’re out of immediate danger, you’re supposed to return back to balance, feeling safe and at ease. Problems arise when we go into fight-or-flight and stay there long after a traumatic event is over.

“Sometimes it’s because the trauma is ongoing. That’s what happens to kids who are in abusive or neglectful situations. But sometimes, we’ve experienced a traumatic event and we’re stuck in that fight-or-flight. It’s like our foot is on the accelerator and we can’t take it off.

So, we become anxious and agitated. We have trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating. We’re impatient with other people, impatient with ourselves. Also, we’re stuck in that past. We replay the images, the images of someone abusing us, someone assaulting us or a boss treating us badly or what happened to us when we were deployed …”

The Freeze Response

The second process activated by trauma is the freeze response. Fight-or-flight is part of the sympathetic nervous system, which is one-half of the autonomic nervous system. The other half of the autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system.

“In general, we’re trying to mobilize the parasympathetic nervous system to balance out fight-or-flight,” Gordon explains. “But sometimes, if the situation is so overwhelming and so inescapable, we go into what is called the freeze response, which is mediated and governed by the oldest part of the parasympathetic nervous system, deep in the mid-brain.

We just shut down; we collapse. We put out large amounts of endorphins to protect us against the pain that’s there. We distance ourselves because the trauma is so overwhelming and inescapable. We can’t do anything else except shut down our bodies and close off our minds.

This happens, for example, to children who were abused by their parents, because the abuse is terrible and they can’t get away from it. It happens to people who were assaulted by others who are much more powerful than they are. It happens when we’re raped. It happens in a warzone when we can’t get away and we can’t fight. We’re just overpowered by the situation.

When these two responses — fight-or-flight and freeze — continue, they are the essence of post-traumatic stress. “One way to look at it is that post-traumatic stress keeps us chained to the past, to the traumatic events, which we keep on replaying in our body and mind,” Gordon explains. “We’re worried it will happen again.”

The essence of healing psychological trauma is to return back into the present moment because, when traumatized, you’re chained to what happened in the past. You worry it will happen again. If you can relax and come into the present, then the trauma starts to dissipate.

Creating a Foundation for Healing

The first technique taught in Gordon’s program is slow, deep, “Soft Belly” breathing for eight to 10 minutes. Simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping your belly soft and relaxed. Closing your eyes will help eliminate external stimulation. As you do this, pay attention to your breath and allow your muscles to relax.

“This is technically a concentrative meditation,” Gordon says. “You are focusing on the breath, on the words ‘soft’ as you breathe in, and ‘belly’ as your breathe out, and on the feeling of your belly softening, relaxing. It is the antidote to the fight-or-flight response. It activates the vagus nerve, which slows heartrate, lowers blood pressure, helps us relax the big muscles, improves our digestion.

It quiets centers in the brain, like the amygdala in the emotional brain, that are responsible for fear and anger, and stimulates centers in the frontal part of our cerebral cortex that make us more self-aware, more thoughtful, more capable of decision-making, more able to be compassionate to other people and to ourselves.

This is the place to begin. This becomes a foundation for learning all the other techniques, because if we’re in this relaxed moment-to-moment awareness, then it’s much easier to use the techniques that mobilize our imagination.

It also becomes easier to use the active, physical techniques that can break up the frozen tension that’s in our bodies. It’s important to know that, when we’re dealing with psychological trauma, we need to work with our bodies, as well as our minds and our imagination.”

Other Self-Healing Techniques

“Shaking and Dancing” is one of these active techniques. It is technically an “expressive meditation,” designed to loosen our trauma-tensed bodies and relax and open our preoccupied minds. Here’s how you do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees bent, and start shaking from your feet up through your knees and hips to your shoulders, chest and head.

Continue for five to seven minutes. “Shaking begins to break up the fixed patterns that have come into our bodies when we’ve been traumatized,” Gordon explains. The physical shaking also loosens the repeating thoughts that intrude in your mind, and opens you up to emotions that have been suppressed and repressed.

“Sometimes it’s sadness. Sometimes it’s anger. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s laughter,” Gordon says. “We do that for five or six minutes. And then stop and stand and relax and be aware, be mindful of the breath and the body.”

After that, Gordon suggests putting on energizing music that you find uplifting, something that raises your spirits. Then allow your body to move to the music in whatever way it wants.

“‘Shaking and Dancing’ breaks up patterns that come from both fight-or-flight and freezing. It allows emotions to come up. It gives us a little time for mindfulness to become aware of what came up in our body as we did the shaking. And then it gives us a chance to express ourselves in dance, to feel some freedom,” Gordon says.

These three are basic — the Soft Belly breathing, the drawings and the Shaking and Dancing. Once you’re in a state of increased equilibrium — balancing out the fight-or-flight response and bringing yourself out of the freeze response, you can use all the other techniques I teach.

These include guided imagery, written dialogues, biofeedback and autogenic training (phrases that mobilize the parasympathetic nervous system and help us rest and digest), and many others — walking, meditation, mindful eating, being in nature and with animals, laughter, gratitude, and forgiveness.

The Trauma Healing Diet

When we’re psychologically traumatized, our GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, suffers just as much as our brain. Every aspect of digestion is significantly disrupted. We need to restore functioning. Techniques like Soft Belly, which quiet the fight-or-flight response and allow your digestion to operate more efficiently, are part of the healing process.

“There are also many dietary changes we can make that can make a major difference in how we feel and how quickly and well we recover from trauma … If we eat a basic healthy diet and eliminate food additives and preservatives, that, in itself, is going to help your gut to heal,” Gordon says.

“I also suggest people eliminate gluten-containing foods and stay away from milk products until their gut is restored. Trauma often opens spaces between the cells that line the small intestine and these grain and milk proteins can then enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation everywhere in our body, including our brain.

We need to supplement with probiotics. I would also add … a multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement. There’s an interesting study done in New Zealand after the earthquake there, a very good randomized controlled trial, showing that people who took a high-dose multivitamin and multi-mineral [supplement] had far fewer symptoms of psychological trauma than those who did not.”

Understanding chronic pain: The mind-body connection

Mind-body connection

Dr. Howard Schubiner discusses the how chronic pain can be devastating, but that it is often not what it seems. Pain can be caused by tissue damage, however many people with chronic pain have no tissue damage. Their pain is caused by learned nerve pathways which are explained in this video.

Stress and emotional reactions to stressful life events can produce nerve pathways of pain, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Learned nerve pathways can be reversed as described in this video:

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About The Author

Howard Schubiner, MD, is the founder and director of the Mind-Body Medicine Center at Providence-Providence Park Hospital. A protege of Dr. John Sarno, author of The Mind-Body Prescription. Dr. Schubiner has developed an innovative and effective program to help many patients find relief from their chronic pain.