Face-to-face connectedness, oxytocin and your vagus nerve

This Psychology Today blog post is phase three of a nine-part series called "The Vagus Nerve Survival Guide." The nine vagal maneuvers featured in each of these blog posts are designed to help you stimulate your vagus nerve — which can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the "relaxation response" mechanisms of your parasympathetic nervous system. Face-to-face social connectedness fortifies the "tend-and-befriend" parasympathetic response and engages your vagus nerve. This improves vagal tone and counteracts stress responses associated with "fight-or-flight" mechanisms. Social connectedness has also been clinically proven to improve heart rate variability (HRV), which is the measurement of variations within beat-to-beat intervals and indicates a healthy heart. As I described in the introduction to this series, your vagus nerve is the prime driving force of the parasympathetic nervous system which regulates your "rest-and-digest" or "tend-and-befriend"... ...

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Meta-analysis indicates the Mozart effect might be the real thing

The idea that listening to Mozart can help people with epilepsy has been around since the early 1990s. It has been treated with not a little scepticism, but also not ignored: there have been studies (this one, for example) and even studies of studies (this meta-analysis is from as early 1999). The brief has also expanded from just Mozart to other forms of music. In fact, there has been such "a flow of new research in the last few years", according to Gianluca Sesso from Italy's University of Pisa, that it was again "time to stand back and look at the overall picture" - which is what he and colleague Federico Sicca did. In a paper published in the journal Clinical Neurophysiology and just presented at a virtual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, they present findings which, they...

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Unconscious learning underlies belief in God; stronger beliefs in people who can unconsciously predict complex patterns

Individuals who can unconsciously predict complex patterns, an ability called implicit pattern learning, are likely to hold stronger beliefs that there is a god who creates patterns of events in the universe, according to neuroscientists at Georgetown University. Their research, reported in the journal, Nature Communications, is the first to use implicit pattern learning to investigate religious belief. The study spanned two very different cultural and religious groups, one in the U.S. and one in Afghanistan. The goal was to test whether implicit pattern learning is a basis of belief and, if so, whether that connection holds across different faiths and cultures. The researchers indeed found that implicit pattern learning appears to offer a key to understanding a variety of religions. "Belief in a god or gods who intervene in the world to create order is a core element of...

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Factors involved in psy­cho­pathy and schizo­phrenia already present in new­born brain cells

Would you prefer to be told that your newborn is likely to grow up into a psychopath? Or that they may develop schizophrenia? What if, after receiving a positive result, it would be possible to prevent this from happening? Prognostic factors for psychopathy and schizophrenia can be observed in human brain cells already in the second trimester of pregnancy. In principle, newborns could be tested and their risk of developing a disorder assessed. Whether such testing would engender too much suffering is another matter. "Regardless of the disease, the easiest and least expensive way of reducing suffering is prevention or alleviation in advance," says Professor Jari Koistinaho, director of the Neuroscience Center. Nevertheless, testing would be associated with risks and difficult questions. ...

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The high price of perpetual fear

I've gone on for a long time about fear making humans stupid, and even about it being a weapon and a brain poison. But I've also wondered at times whether people would hit fear-fatigue... that point where people have simply had enough fear and walk out from under it. As it turns out, however, I was a bit optimistic on fear fatigue. I've been reading Robert Sapolsky's newest book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best And Worst, and was disappointed to learn what the best new research shows on the long-term application of fear. (Or, in the academic terminology, sustained stress.) My disappointment, however, was soon tempered by two things: I gained information on how fear poisoning works. That human neurology is immensely variable, that there are exceptions to everything, and that if the whole picture were actually...

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SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Interview with John Buchanan: Alfred North Whitehead – A Philosophy For Our Time

We've made numerous references to Alfred North Whitehead and process philosophy on MindMatters, but who was Whitehead, and what makes his philosophy so interesting, and relevant? Today on the show, we are joined by John Buchanan, co-editor of the recently released volume Rethinking Consciousness, in which he has a paper highlighting the similarities between Jim Carpenter's first sight theory and Whitehead's process philosophy. In our discussion with John we discuss Whitehead, some of the things that made his philosophy so revolutionary, why he isn't more well known today, and why he should be. His philosophy rejects the atheism and materialism of the current 'scientific' worldview, making room for the entire range of human experience. Another advantage is that Whitehead as a mathematician was well versed in the relativity and quantum theories that have come to characterize our contemporary science and...

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Children use both brain hemispheres to understand language, unlike adults says new finding

Infants and young children have brains with a superpower, of sorts, say Georgetown University Medical Center neuroscientists. Whereas adults process most discrete neural tasks in specific areas in one or the other of their brain's two hemispheres, youngsters use both the right and left hemispheres to do the same task. The finding suggests a possible reason why children appear to recover from neural injury much easier than adults. The study, published Sept. 7, 2020, in PNAS, focuses on one task — language — and finds that to understand language (more specifically, processing spoken sentences), children use both hemispheres. This finding fits with previous and ongoing research led by Georgetown neurology professor Elissa L. Newport, PhD, a former postdoctoral fellow Olumide Olulade, MD, PhD, and neurology assistant professor Anna Greenwald, PhD. "This is very good news for young children who experience...

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BEST OF THE WEB: Will you choose freedom?

In George Orwell's classic dystopian novel "1984," protagonist Winston wonders whether he is the only person who retains a real memory and doubts the narrative of The Party. He has no way to find out whether everyone else truly believes the government-revised version of history, or simply acts like they do; discussing such matters is verboten, punishable by vaporization: deletion from history. Fortunately we are not quite at that point in the United States — no one has yet been vaporized. However, we seem to be imprisoned by the force of social disapproval just as surely as Winston was imprisoned by the threat of instant death. Millions of lockdown opponents won't make their position known even to their closest family and friends; taking a position publicly is unthinkable — they would lose social standing, clients, and possibly even their jobs....

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Scientists induce psychedelic-like experiences from a placebo alone

New research recently published in Psychopharmacology provides evidence that inert placebo pills can induce psychedelic-like effects, including perceptual alterations. The findings highlight the importance of expectations and context when ingesting psychedelic substances. The study also sheds some light on the mystery of so-called contact highs. "I am interested in placebos generally and in particular in maximizing their effects. When I was reading clinical trials of psychedelic drugs, I was surprised by the low placebo effects reported in many studies," said study author Jay Olson, who recently earned his PhD in psychiatry from McGill University. "We have other evidence that people can have psychedelic-like effects without taking the drug. For example, in the case of 'contact highs' in which people feel the effects of drugs merely by being around people who have consumed the drug. Or, other people have reported having...

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More entitled people get angrier after experiencing bad luck

We've all had the experience of losing our temper when being treated unfairly by someone else. And while anger isn't the most pleasant emotion, it can be a useful social tool to signal to another person that we're not happy with how they're acting towards us. But what about when we suffer because of bad luck, rather someone else's actions? In that case it would seem to make little sense to get mad. And yet, a new study in Personality and Individual Differences finds that a certain group of people are more likely to show anger in such situations: those who feel like they are particularly entitled in the first place. Psychological entitlement is essentially a belief that you deserve more than others. People who score highly in entitlement tend to think that others should be accommodating of their own...

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