Tuesday, November 29, 2016


INNER PEACE, LOVE and (yes, even religious thoughts) trigger reward systems like love, drugs

(CNN)Most Americans, about 89%, say they believe in God, and some have felt God's presence while listening to a sermon or sensed time stand still while they were in deep prayer or meditation.
Now, a new study shows through functional MRI scans that such religious and spiritual experiences can be rewarding to your brain.
    They activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs, according to the study, which was published in the journal Social Neuroscience on Tuesday.
    "These are areas of the brain that seem like they should be involved in religious and spiritual experience. But yet, religious neuroscience is such a young field -- and there are very few studies -- and ours was the first study that showed activation of the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that processes reward," said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, a neuroradiologist at the University of Utah and lead author of the study.
    "Billions of people make important decisions in life based on spiritual and religious feelings and experiences. It's one of the most powerful influences on our social behavior," he said. "Yet we know so little about what actually happens in the brain during these experiences. It's just a critical question that needs more study."

    Mulling over Mormon MRIs

    For the study, 19 devout young adult Mormons had their brains scanned in fMRI machines while they completed various tasks. 
    The tasks included resting for six minutes, watching a six-minute church announcement about membership and financial reports, reading quotations from religious leaders for eight minutes, engaging in prayer for six minutes, reading scripture for eight minutes, and watching videos of religious speeches, renderings of biblical scenes and church member testimonials.
    Pastor Joel Osteen on the power of prayer
    Pastor Joel Osteen on the power of prayer 01:44
    During the tasks, participants were asked to indicate when they were experiencing spiritual feelings.
    As the researchers analyzed the fMRI scans taken of the participants, they took a close look at the degree of spiritual feelings each person reported and then which brain regions were simultaneously activated.
    The researchers found that certain brain regions consistently lit up when the participants reported spiritual feelings. 
    The brain regions included the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward; frontal attentional, which is associated with focused attention; and ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci, associated with moral reasoning, Anderson said.
    Spiritual feelings trigger a reward circuit in the brain, as shown in this MRI. Courtesy of the University of Utah Health Sciences
    "I appreciated how they went about trying to ascertain the degree of spiritual experience that a person has. Of course, there is always a subjective component to it, but they seemed to capture it relatively well," said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologian and professor of emergency medicine and radiology at Thomas Jefferson University who was not involved in the study.
    He added that the new study further supports previous research that has associated spiritual and religious experiences with complex neural networks.
    "It is also interesting to see the changes occurring in the frontal attentional areas and the nucleus accumbens. These are actually areas we have hypothesized to be involved in religious practices and experiences over 10 years ago," Newberg said. "It also corroborates our prior studies of various prayer and meditation practices that found changes in the attentional areas of the brain and also the striatum," a part of the brain associated with the reward system.
    Since the study results were seen only in Mormons, Anderson said, more research is needed to determine whether similar findings could be replicated in people of other faiths, such as Catholics or Muslims.
    "I think that it's still an open question, to what extent there is a common network of brain regions that is active across faith traditions and types of experiences. We expect that there are differences," he said. "In other words, does it feel the same way in the same regions of the brain for a Lutheran woman in Minnesota studying the Bible as for someone in Syria contemplating religiously motivated violence?"
    More research is also needed to determine the potential health benefits of such experiences, Anderson said.
    The scientific literature on health-related effects of spiritual experiences is growing, said Newberg, who wrote the book "How God Changes Your Brain."
    "Generally, religious and spiritual beliefs and practices reduce depression, stress and anxiety and provide people a sense of meaning and purpose," he said.
    "Additionally, it is also important to understand the potential negative consequences," he said. "For example, would this study yield similar or different results if the subjects were members of ISIS and provided religious quotes and videos supporting those beliefs? That could be a fascinating study."

    'This is one of the things that make us human'

    Reward systems in the brain might activate during religious or spiritual experiences in part because they reinforce whatever faith-based beliefs you may have, said Jordan Grafman, director of brain injury research at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and a professor at Northwestern University.
    "Reinforcing your beliefs makes you feel a little bit better and secure," said Grafman, who was not involved in the new study. 
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    He added that studying religious beliefs can reveal a lot about the human brain.
    "Well, this is one of the things that make us human, right?" Grafman asked. 
    "There are not too many other species, as far as we know about, that have a religion," he said. "If you're simply interested in what distinguishes us as creatures, this is a great example, and that's why it's important to study the brain basis, not only of how religion affects the brain, but the brain basis of religious beliefs and how that corresponds to other kinds of cognitive processes."

    Saturday, November 19, 2016


    This is pretty funny:

    Monday, November 14, 2016


    From New Scientist: 

    What explains Brexit, Trump and the rise of the far right?

    Brain Scanner is Simon Oxenham's weekly column that sifts the pseudoscience from the neuroscience

    When people are anxious, they make bad decisions. Anxiety suppresses neurons in the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain, which is involved in decision-making.
    https://www.newscientist.com/…/2095975-what-explains-b…/sift the pseudoscience from the neuroscience

    To many, the rise of Donald Trump in the US and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union have come as a shock. It is feared that right-wing movements may now rise across Europe, including Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France. Why is the face of global politics changing so quickly, and could we have predicted this rightwards shift?
    Some studies suggest so. Over a period of nearly 150 years, we have seen that every financial crisis was followed by a 10-year surge in support for far right populist parties, as shown by a recent analysis of more than 800 elections by German economists. Interestingly, they did not see the same right-shift reaction in response to recessions or macroeconomic shocks that formed part of the normal cycle of economic rises and falls and weren’t explicitly sparked by a financial crash. The UK is now eight years on since its last financial crisis – although it should be returning to pre-2008 levels of far-right support around about now.

    Bad decisions

    Public-health researcher Christopher Simms of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, argued last month that when people are anxious, not only do they fail to make good decisions, but they also seem to make particularly bad ones. He cited recent research showing that anxiety suppresses neurons in the pre-frontal cortex region of the brain, which is involved in decision-making.
    This may help to explain a lot of what is happening in the world right now. The Global Risks Report 2016 details a worldwide rise in catastrophic events, ranging from involuntary migration to natural disasters. When such crises occur, people look for someone to blame, and often immigration and minorities become an easy scapegoat for a problem that is far less visible in origin – as is the case with financial crises.
    Immigration itself has been shown to have an effect on right-wing views – but not in the direction you might expect. The two show a negative correlation: in the places where immigration is the highest, support for right-wing parties is lowest. For example, it has been shown that it is the perception of immigration levels in a local area, rather than the actual change in numbers, that is linked to votes for UKIP.
    This effect may be explained by the contact hypothesis – the theory that, in the words of psychologist Thomas Pettigrew at the University of California, Santa Cruz, “all that’s needed for greater understanding between groups is contact”. Pettigrew has authored a meta-analysis of more than 500 studies on this subject.

    Emotion and autonomy

    “Never before in history has so much deception been unmasked so quickly and with so little shame,” says Stephan Lewandowsky, a researcher on misinformation at Bristol University in the UK, in regards to the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU.
    Campaigns to leave the EU ultimately depended on stoking fears of migrants, echoing Donald Trump’s campaign in the US. What has made these fear campaigns so effective?
    According to the influential behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University, the leave campaigns used arguments that were based on emotion rather than rational analysis – a triumph of System 1 over System 2 thinking, as described in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
    Another psychological explanation is that the leave campaigns capitalised on a person’s fundamental need for autonomy, says psychologist Paul Redford of the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. Leave voters typically have less wealth and power, so their vote to leave the EU may have been an attempt to increase their scope for self-determination.

    Showing support

    Since the referendum result, the National Police Chief’s Council has reported a rise in reports of hate crime in the UK. In the week following the vote, an online reporting site received 331 reports of hate crime, a fivefold increase from the weekly average of 63.
    A wealth of psychological research into conformity has shown that this could be a dangerous situation. A widely replicated study in 1955 by Solomon Asch showed that when people were asked to judge whether lines of the same size were really the same length, most people could be led to profess the belief that the lines were actually different lengths. All it took to persuade people was having a group of actors all say that the lines were of different lengths. The study shows how easily people can be pushed to change their views to match those of the people around them.
    In the wake of the rise in hate-crime reporting, a viral campaign has sprung up to express opposition to racism. By wearing a safety pin attached to their lapels, some people are hoping to express their support for the people in the UK who are now feeling victimised or under threat. Clinical psychologist Miriam Silver says that showing solidarity in such a way, and connecting with those who are experiencing hostility, are small steps that people can take to support those under threat.
    As for media reports of “Bregret” – leave voters who now regret their choice – Kahneman has argued that most won’t regret their decision, because regret is rare. Instead, people find ways to explain what is happening around them that lay the blame with someone else.

    More on these topics:

    Thursday, November 10, 2016


    Don't lose hope. Let's lift each other up. The more you focus on the good in others, the more good will unfold. For all the sad young women who feel their hope was stolen last night, let's unite in power and keep moving toward our beautiful dreams! And hold this thought: "Let me never betray this child's trust, dampen this child's hope, or di him inner strength and prace and patience for the journey ahead."

    PLEASE LEAVE  some Political jokes in the comment section. thank you!
    Election Night Comedy with Larry Miller

    Vicki Abelson and Lydia Cornell on Election night at the Garland Hotel