Category: Mind & Brain

The Darker Side of the ‘Love Hormone’

By S Craig Roberts, University of Stirling | May 21, 2015 9:40 am

love hormone

A decade ago, a revolutionary paper showed that a hormone called oxytocin can actually make us trust other people. This spawned a flurry of research that revealed oxytocin’s potential to boost social interactions. Now a new study has shown that the hormone is actually very similar to alcohol, a well-known social lubricant. However, just like alcohol, it has a dark side.

In the first study, published in 2005, volunteers were asked to invest money in an anonymous trustee whose honesty could not be guaranteed. People who received a dose of oxytocin chose to invest more than those given a placebo – they were more trusting. Subsequent experiments have shown that oxytocin also leads people to become more empathetic, generous and cooperative. They become better at reading social nuances and facial expressions, believe others to be more approachable and become less fearful and anxious in social situations.

Not only this, it seems that oxytocin may help to promote fidelity. Evidence for this comes most clearly in two intensively studied and closely related rodent species. One, the prairie vole, is monogamous; mated couples form close pair bonds and share nest-building and parental duties. In the other, the meadow vole, males leave the female with the babies and will try to mate again.

The two species vary in their sensitivity to oxytocin. However, experiments that increase the effective sensitivity to oxytocin by increasing hormone dosage or blocking receptors in the brain can actually change pair-bonding behavior, making it easier for female prairie voles to choose a partner and turning previously promiscuous meadow vole males into monogamous, caring dads.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?

By Dave Levitan | April 27, 2015 1:12 pm

marijuana

This article originally appeared on FactCheck.org.

Chris Christie recently said that marijuana is a “gateway drug” while arguing for enforcement of its federal status as an illegal substance. Though there are correlations between marijuana use and other drugs, there is no conclusive evidence that one actually causes the other. The science on this topic is far from settled.

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads users to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: drugs & addiction

In the Brain, Romantic Love Is Basically an Addiction

By Helen Fisher | February 13, 2015 11:43 am

brain hearts

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it,” Albert Einstein reportedly said. I’d like to broaden the definition of addiction—and also retire the scientific idea that all addictions are pathological and harmful.

Since the beginning of formal diagnostics more than fifty years ago, the compulsive pursuit of gambling, food, and sex (known as non-substance rewards) have not been regarded as addictions. Only abuse of alcohol, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, heroin, and nicotine have been formally regarded as addictions. This categorization rests largely on the fact that substances activate basic “reward pathways” in the brain associated with craving and obsession and produce pathological behaviors. Psychiatrists work within this world of psychopathology—that which is abnormal and makes you ill. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Baby Sign Language: Does It Work?

By Elizabeth Kirk, University of York | February 4, 2015 11:29 am

baby sign

What if babies could tell us what they want, before they start crying for it? Bring in baby signing, a system of symbolic hand gestures for key works such as “milk,” “hot” and “all gone” that are taught to hearing babies as a way to communicate before they can talk.

The sign for milk, for example, is made by opening and closing the hand, while the sign for “more” by tapping the ends of the fingers together.

Now new research has reported that it’s even possible for babies to learn these signs just from viewing videos at home. The study found that babies learned to produce baby signs just as well from a video as they did if they were taught by their parents.

Yet only those babies who had been taught the signs from a parent showed evidence of understanding what the signs meant. The bigger question is whether these findings should be taken as encouragement to teach babies to sign and what impact it has on child development.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: language

Virtual Bodyswapping Can Reduce Racial Bias

By Manos Tsakiris, Royal Holloway | January 30, 2015 1:00 pm

bodyswap

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

In 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white American writer, underwent medical treatments to change his skin appearance and present himself as a black man. He then traveled through the segregated US south to experience the racism endured daily by millions of black Americans. This unparalleled life experiment provided invaluable insights into how the change in Griffin’s own skin color triggered negative and racist behaviors from his fellow Americans.

But what about the changes that Griffin himself might have experienced? What does it mean to become someone else? How does this affect one’s self? And how can this affect one’s stereotypes, beliefs and racial attitudes? That was the key question that my colleagues and I set out to answer in a series of psychological experiments that looked at the link between our bodies and our sense of who we are.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

When Women Are Rare, Men Are Less Promiscuous

By Ryan Schacht and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder | January 14, 2015 12:21 pm

bar talkingThe Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Popular wisdom and established evolutionary science hold that the sexes seek fundamentally different relationships: men want short-term, no-strings-attached relationships whereas women value longer-term, loyal partnerships.

The explanation generally comes down to biological differences between men and women. Because women invest more in reproduction than men do – think pregnancy, morning sickness and stretchmarks – being picky becomes important because choosing poorly can be costly, even devastating. However, for men, reproduction may only entail a brief sexual liaison and a bit of sperm – there are potentially no long-term costs. This calculus has been built into our psychology, many argue.

Think about it more carefully, though. Where do all the women sleeping with these guys come from? Shouldn’t it be difficult for men to find so many willing partners? As theorist Hanna Kokko noted, it takes two to tango.

If we go by the numbers, in a group with an equal number of both sexes, it is impossible, on average, for men to have more partners than women. So why do we expect male psychology to be so hellbent on one-night stands? And why, clearly in opposition to this notion, are many men often so devotedly paternal?

Here’s where an established body of literature in sociology and demography – called mating market theory (MMT) – can help out. According to MMT, relationship preferences are expected to follow not simply from these fixed biological propensities, but also to be heavily influenced by partner availability.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

The Surprising Personality Traits of Extreme Adventurers

By Emma Barrett and Paul Martin | December 4, 2014 7:08 am

extreme_climber

When considering extreme environments it is easy to make assumptions about personality, which on closer examination do not stand up to scrutiny. Take, for example, one of the best-researched personality dimensions: introversion-extraversion. Extraversion as a trait appears in all established psychological models of personality, and there is considerable evidence that it has a biological basis. The concepts of introversion and extraversion long ago escaped the confines of academic psychology and are widely used in everyday conversation, albeit in ways that do not always reflect the psychological definitions.

Broadly speaking, individuals who score highly on measures of extraversion tend to seek stimulation, whereas those who score low tend to avoid it. When asked to describe a typical extravert, most people tend to think of the lively ‘party animal,’ equating extraversion with a preference for social interactions. However, individuals who score highly for extraversion seek more than just social stimulation: they also tend to gravitate toward other stimulating situations, including active leisure and work pursuits, travel, sex, and even celebrity. Introverts, on the other hand, have a generally lower affinity for stimulation.

They find too much stimulation, of whatever type, draining rather than energizing. Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not necessarily shy or fearful about social situations, unless they also score highly on measures of social anxiety and neuroticism.

On this basis, one might assume that extraverts would be drawn to extreme environments, where they could satisfy their desire for stimulating situations, whereas introverts would find them unattractive. And yet, extreme environments may also expose people to monotony and solitude — experiences that extraverts would find aversive, but which are tolerated or even enjoyed by well-balanced introverts. The point here is that simple assumptions about broad personality traits are unlikely to provide good explanations of why people engage in extreme activities.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

A Better Way to Screen Airport Passengers, With Psychology

By Coral J. Dando, University of Wolverhampton | November 24, 2014 9:35 am

airport security

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

International airports are a busy place to be. Nearly 140,000 passengers pass through New York’s JFK Airport every day. The internal security of the country depends on effective airport checks.

All departing passengers pass through a series of security procedures before embarking their plane. One such procedure is a short, scripted interview when security personnel must make decisions about passenger risk by looking for behavioral indicators of deception.

These are referred to as “suspicious signs”: signs of nervousness, aggression and an unusual interest in security procedures, for example. However, this approach has never been empirically validated and its continued use is criticized for being based on outdated, unreliable perceptions of how people behave when being deceptive.

Despite these concerns, the suspicious signs approach continues to dominate security screening: the US government spends $200 million yearly on behavior-detection officers, who are tasked with spotting suspicious signs. This is a waste of money.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Ignore IQ Tests: Your Level of Intelligence Is Not Fixed for Life

IQ test

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

We’re getting more stupid. That’s one point made in a recent article in the New Scientist, reporting on a gradual decline in IQs in developed countries such as the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Such research feeds into a long-held fascination with testing human intelligence. Yet such debates are too focused on IQ as a lifelong trait that can’t be changed. Other research is beginning to show the opposite.

The concept of testing intelligence was first successfully devised by French psychologists in the early 1900s to help describe differences in how well and quickly children learn at school. But it is now frequently used to explain that difference – that we all have a fixed and inherent level of intelligence that limits how fast we can learn.

Defined loosely, intelligence refers to our ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations. IQ tests measure our vocabulary, our ability to problem-solve, reason logically and so on.

But what many people fail to understand is that if IQ tests measured only our skills at these particular tasks, no one would be interested in our score. The score is interesting only because it is thought to be fixed for life.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: intelligence

Do Screens Make Us Stupider? Time for a Rethink of Reading

By Julie Sedivy | June 17, 2014 11:30 am

reading

At the university where I teach, fewer and fewer new books are available from the library in their physical, printed form. And yet, the company that just published my textbook tells me that about 90 percent of students who buy my book choose to lug around the four-pound paper version rather than purchase the weightless e-book.

The information is exactly the same, so why would students opt for the pricier and more cumbersome version? Is the library missing something important about the nature of printed versus electronic books?

Some studies do show that information becomes more securely fixed in people’s minds when they read it from paper than when they read it from the screen (as summarized in this recent blog post). Findings like these may resonate with our subjective experience of reading, and yet still seem puzzling at an intellectual level. This is because we’re used to thinking about reading—or information processing more generally—as the metaphorical equivalent of consuming food. We talk about devouring novels, digesting a report, and absorbing information. If we’re ingesting the same material, whether it’s presented in print or electronically, how can the results be so different?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Memory & learning
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