PsychNews: Oct. 10 – 16

1. Researchers, the Dalai Lama, and the neuroscience of altruism

    “Researchers from CCARE [at Stanford University] have studied the use of neuroscientific models to understand how people make decisions about altruistic giving. They have analyzed the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging and other psychological measures to determine the effects of compassion training. Among the researchers are Buddhist and Catholic contemplative practitioners.

    While CCARE’s interests may sound technical and complicated, the problems they hope to solve are not: How can we prevent caregiver burnout? Why do some kids become bullies? Can we teach people to be more compassionate?”

2. Are Only Humans Good Samaritans? by Vanessa Woods, evolutionary anthropologist from Duke University

    “Comparisons between chimpanzees and humans have led to the hypothesis that only humans voluntarily share their own food with others. However, it is hard to draw conclusions because the food-sharing preferences of our more tolerant relative, the bonobo (Pan paniscus), have never been studied experimentally.”

3. Study confirms: What doesn’t kill us can make us stronger.

    “We’ve all heard the adage that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but until now the preponderance of scientific evidence has offered little support for it.

    However, a new national multi-year longitudinal study of the effects of adverse life events on mental health has found that adverse experiences do, in fact, appear to foster subsequent adaptability and resilience, with resulting advantages for mental health and well being.”

4. Nice guys usually get the girl in the end

    “Psychologists believe that traits such as selflessness and altruism have become part of our genetic make-up because they were attractive to mates. They believe that as humans evolved, qualities such as being fittest and strongest were usurped by other qualities – such as offering a helping hand in bringing up the children.

    ‘The expansion of the human brain would have greatly increased the cost of raising children so it would have been important for our ancestors to choose mates both willing and able to be good, long-term parents,’ said Dr Tim Phillips and colleagues from the University of Nottingham and Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London. “

5. Bilingualism Good for the Brain

    “Bilingual education is controversial in the United States, but a growing body of research shows that regularly speaking two languages comes with certain types of improved mental performance.

    In a Perspective article appearing today in the journal Science, Jared Diamond of the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ highlights studies of bilingualism that show this effect.”

6. Psych Majors Aren’t Happy With Options

    “Only 26% of psychology majors are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their career paths, the lowest in a sampling of popular majors included in a Wall Street Journal study. The psychology majors the survey captured had a satisfaction rate 14 percentage points lower than the next lowest majors, economics and environmental engineering.”

7. Need a study break to refresh? Maybe not, say Stanford researchers

    “In a paper published this week in Psychological Science, the researchers challenge a long-held theory that willpower – defined as the ability to resist temptation and stay focused on a demanding task – is a limited resource. Scientists have argued that when willpower is drained, the only way to restore it is by recharging our bodies with rest, food or some other physical distraction that takes you away from whatever is burning you out.

    Not so, says the Stanford team. Instead, they’ve found that a person’s mindset and personal beliefs about willpower determine how long and how well they’ll be able to work on a tough mental exercise.

    ‘If you think of willpower as something that’s biologically limited, you’re more likely to be tired when you perform a difficult task,’ said Veronika Job, the paper’s lead author. ‘But if you think of willpower as something that is not easily depleted, you can go on and on.'”

8. The Empathic Civilization

    “Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society.”

9. Brains hard-wired to connect with friends

    “Our brains seem to be hard-wired to identify and ‘get’ our friends, a phenomenon that likely evolved to help ensure the survival of such a social species, research suggests. The brain-imaging study showed that increased activity in a network of brain regions took place when participants viewed pictures of themselves and thought about themselves as well as when they thought about friends (regardless of their similarities to each other).”

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