Archives For: February 2011

The horrors of the past are very much a part of the present. Why are we ignoring them?

02/28/2011

Most people think the Holocaust was a one-time, unthinkably tragic sequence of events that we would never let happen again.

Most people think that slavery ended decades ago – and was a horrendously barbaric practice that has no place in the modern world.

Most people are mistaken.

Our world continues to condone slavery and genocide.  They’re more clandestine, more under the radar, than their historical predecessors, but they’re very real and very 21st century. 

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Research shows: the secret to lasting love is gratitude

02/25/2011

Love by Bohringer Friedrich We all want a relationship that works – but most of us, if we’re honest, admit we only have a limited idea how to do that.  

What makes relationships between committed couples and married partners work? What causes them to fail? It turns out there are answers, and one of them will surprise you.

In March, the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences will publish a study that looks at gratitude among married partners. A first of its kind, the research comes in the wake of studies that prove the positive effects of gratitude for the physical and psychological well-being of individuals. The couples research looks at fifty married couples of at least twenty years, and gathered specific data. A sneak peak of the research results suggest:  gratitude makes all the difference.

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"Dreaming" isn't just sleeping: it's problem solving, meaning making, and a key to health

02/24/2011

Nun's_dream_by_Karl_Briullov We spend a third of our lives sleeping – and if you’re not sleeping enough, you could be in trouble. The National Sleep Foundation compiled research that shows lack of sufficient qualitysleep is linked to:

But the thing we miss out on most is dreaming.  Dreaming gives our brains the time and the space to process our everyday experiences. That process in itself is beneficial.

Scientists at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center recently published research that supports this perspective. They found that while we are sleeping, our brains are happily working, undistracted by the day to day busyness. In the sleep state the brain has the opportunity to track, file and integrate all of the information that was gathered throughout the day with what we already have stored away. In that tracking the mind can find solutions to tasks that may have stumped us earlier in the day.

It’s as if our brains are working hard to organize our thoughts – and that’s beneficial for our waking lives.

Dream research is looking how we can be more active in our “learning” or “problem solving” while we’re sleeping.

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To help victims of disaster, we have to remember them

02/23/2011

Oil-spill It’s been nearly ten months since the largest oil spill in the history of the United States. For American media, it is a distant memory. For those that it affects, it is still an everyday horror story.

 On that dreadful day of April 10, 2010, oil spewed out into some of the worlds most precious and vital wildlife sanctuaries in the Golf Coast. Scientists estimate 18-39 million barrels of oil leaked into the waters over a series of months spreading over nearly 30,000 square miles.

Media attention has primarily focused on the immediate effects of the spill, the environmental travesty, and its effect on the American food supply.

This is significant. But the human toll of this travesty is unreported on, and far worse. 

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How well does your body know your mind?

02/22/2011

Bharata_natyam_dancer_medha_s The best way to understand what you’re feeling might be to ask what your body’s doing. 

Anyone who’s been paying attention to research knows there’s a connection between the mind and the body ... and anyone who’s been paying careful attention is at least a little aware on a visceral level of how that connection works.  The ability to observe the mind-body connection in action is called “emotional coherence.” The greater the level of emotional coherence the greater our ability is to notice the connection between a pounding heart and anger.  

Is it possible to improve our emotional coherence through specialized training?

In a 2010 study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley investigated that question.  Their study included 21 Vipassana meditators, 21 dancers, and 21 individuals who did not practice any form of specialized body awareness practice. Participants watched four films that were designed to bring up a range of emotions. While they watched these films, there were then asked to monitor their own emotional experiences. They used a dial that had a rating scale ranging from very negative to very positive and completed a number of questionnaires. The researchers also monitored the participants heart rate with an EKG.

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In a crisis, most of us make things worse. Here's how not to ...

02/21/2011

Tao You’ve probably heard that the term “crisis” in Mandarin Chinese means both danger and opportunity. But how does that work, exactly?  How does a person change the next major crisis in their life and turn it into an opportunity to grow and thrive?

There is a dark omen around “crises,” and rightfully so.  It’s all too common for a crisis to lead to a domino effect and cascade:  the old adage suggests that bad things happen in three, and we all have stories. 

That’s because most people are surprisingly bad at keeping today’s crisis from snowballing into tomorrow’s.  All too often our urge to “problem solve” no matter what the cost is an over-reaction that only make matters worse. 

As Rollo May said, “It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way and we grasp more fiercely at research, statistics, technical aids…”

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Drug companies are waging Pharmacological Warfare on us – and what the FDA doesn’t know can kill you

02/18/2011

Assorted pharmaceuticals by LadyofProcrastination Recently the New York Times highlighted the story of a US soldier who returned home from war and then died from his healthcare.  It was tragic for him, and it happens all the time.

 

The soldier suffered from Multiple Pharmaceutical Toxicity – what happens when the multiple drugs prescribed by physicians interact in patients.  Many of these interactions have never been tested in clinical trials or regulated by the FDA.

 

There are no limits to the number of prescription medications one person can take. And therefore, as in the case of US Solider Anthony Mena, no limit to the pill combinations; thus the multiple synthetic chemical interactions of different medications are essentially tested on you and me. And, folks, it does not look good.

 

 

 

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Where you excercise can be as important as how much

02/17/2011

Outdoor exercising It’s tough for gym rats to get exercise outside right now, with most of the country buried in snow and ice.  But make no mistake:  getting non-industrialized in your lungs air can increase mental well-being. 

A collaboration of researchers supported by two health research organizations reviewed the outcomes from research trials and outdoor exercise initiatives. Data from 833 adults who participated in these studies indicate that exercising outdoors;

  • Improved mental well being
  • Was revitalizing and energizing
  • And increased positive engagement 

all the while decreasing

  • tension
  • confusion
  • anger
  • depression

Earlier research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that even spending a brief amount of time outdoors will have a positive effect on mental health. That brief amount of time is actually just five minutes. Five minutes outside of a cubicle will probably have a positive effect on anyone.

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Friends may really be the best medicine for depression

02/16/2011

The news has been hard on anti-depressants – calling them little better than placebos with side-effects.  So, if you’re depressed, what can help?

Find a group.

A new review of research on depression shows that a peer group can help reduce symptoms of depression with similar if not better results than cognitive behavior therapy and other traditional care methods.

Dr. Paul Pfeiffer, M.S., assistant profession of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, reviewed 10 randomized clinical trials from 1989-2009 of peer group based interventions for depression.

He found that getting the support of a peer group has been shown to decrease feelings of isolation and reduces stress. The great part is that in a group people are able to share information on healthy habits and their own personal stories of struggle and eventual success, improving their lives in multiple ways.

That’s just the beginning.  Other specific studies on the subject shows that peer groups can be helpful to many in their healing process.

For example:

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Study shows the poor benefit from love of country ... which the rich tend not to love quite so much

02/15/2011

Patriotic lights Do you love your country?  Does it matter?

A new survey shows that – depending on who you are and where you live – national pride can have a definite impact on happiness. 

Mike Morrison, Louis Tay and Ed Diener predicted that even when people fall into hard times, even when we don’t have enough money or food, they can find consolation in personal pride for their nations.

To find out they interviewed 132,516 individuals from 128 countries via telephone and in-person, who completed multiple surveys on life satisfaction, national satisfaction, domain (standard of living, personal health and job), residential mobility (are they planning on moving) and environmental variables (do you have electricity, telephone, television). All of these surveys were compiled to get a sense of an individuals’ Subjective Well Being (SWB).

They found that satisfaction with one’s country can a strong predictor for life satisfaction -- but only for some people

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Healthy advice: Just Breathe

02/14/2011

Resperatory system Inhale. Exhale. Pheww!

For you and me, this is an automatic experience.  Experts say, the average healthy adult breaths 9-14 breaths every minute. That’s every 4-5 seconds.

It turns out that if we make this routine process a little less routine, it can have life-giving and healing effects for cancer other physical and psychological aliments?

New research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine proves that breathing and guided imagery have substantial benefits for stress management and post-surgery healing; especially for cancer patients. The research studied 159 men with cancer and found that a stress management program focused on proper breathing techniques and healing imagery resulted in stronger immune responses in recovery; measured by higher levels of cell function and circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, which directly affect the healing process after surgery and after cancer treatment.  

Dr. Jeffrey Rossman in the acclaimed Mind Body Mood Solution presents various breathing strategies that are empirically validated to help with chronic pain, psychiatric diagnoses, physical illness and overall wellness.

If you are presently healthy—or suffering from an illness, check out these breathing strategies and you very well might be on your way to a healthier tomorrow.

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The treatments for anxiety can be much, much, worse than the "disease"

02/11/2011

414px-Yakunchikova_Fear Epidemiologists suggest that some eighteen percent of the American population struggles with anxiety each year. Does that make you nervous? 

What makes me nervous is that that BigPharma is handing out little white pills to deal with this problem ... and instead of helping anxiety, these pills are funding the vacation homes of corporate executives.

What makes me downright frightened is that research nearly 30 years in the making shows that some of these anti-anxiety drugs cause brain damage similar to the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. 

Yes, you heard me correctly. Anti-anxiety medication more likely to cause your brain to shrink than it is to cure your anxiety.  And a lot of Americans are on them.

Twenty eight percent of us will struggle with anxiety in our lifetimes, and 83 million Americans take tranquilizers to deal with it. Commonly called “benzos” they are often known by the names: Valium, Xanax, Librium, Ativan, and Klonopin. “Benzos” are said to cause memory loss, damage to the cerebral cortex, addiction, cognitive impairment, memory loss—and a host of other domino effects.

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If peace is possible in prison, it's possible for us all

02/10/2011

Is it possible to find peace even within the confines of prison?

Dublin_Prison For 43- inmates of the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, many of whom are serving life sentences without possibility of parole, inner peace has indeed become attainable.  They’ve taken 10-day, in house, Vipassanā meditation retreat ... and. the results are looking pretty good.

The William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility is the set for the documentary The Dhamma Brothers. The 2007 film focused on the prisoner meditation program and followed four inmates, convicted of murder, through their progress of learning and practicing Vipassanā.

Vipassanā is one of two types of meditation practice in the Buddhist Tradition that is sometimes referred to as “Insight meditation” here in the U.S. Insight into self is the primary focus of this meditation practice:  it is a way of self-transformation through observing self. The practice focuses in on the deep connection between the mind and the body.  That focus is achieved in meditation by paying attention to physical sensation in the body.

Someone who is in prison can’t go far ... there are walls everywhere.  But they can go deep.  Someone who has been convicted of a crime can’t change their past, but they can get insight into their present, and insight into themselves.  Imagine the impact that an intensive study of Insight Meditation could have. 

But we don’t have to imagine. 

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Is depression part of a balanced breakfast?

02/09/2011

Breakfast table Your food may be to blame for your mental illness.

It turns out some of the biggest manufacturers of cereal are fraudulently advertising their ingredients, and what they’re putting into your bodies is bad for your mind.

General Mills Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal, Kellogs Frosted Blueberry Mini Wheats, Kelloggs Special K Fruit Crisps, Fiber One Blueberry Muffin Mixes—[please insert your non-organic cereal name here] do not contain the ingredients in their pictures or their names.

These breakfast foods and countless others do not have real blueberries, pomegranates or the other fruits they purport to have. Instead, those colorful little antioxidant look-a-like berries in the names and package pictures of your breakfast foods are actually hydrogenated oils and liquid sugars! Yup, you read that correctly—its sugar and chemical specifically red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, dextrose, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, citric oil, high fructose corn syrup—the list is endless.

If I were you, I would run to your cabinet and pitch these breakfast chemicals in your nearest wastebasket.

Guess what else these dishonest companies are marketing to your body? Depression and Anxiety.  Recent studies published by Psychology Today suggest that the chemicals and sugar based diets of Americans could be causing and worsening Major Depressive Disorder and a litany of other psychological and psychiatric conditions.

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Playing well with others is just as crucial as Reading, Writing, and 'Rithmatic

02/08/2011

Children_marbles When your mom said “it's important to play well with others!” she wasn’t kidding.

A new meta-analysis shows that teaching children how to play well with others has far reaching benefits – it helps kids emotionally, socially and academically.

This is the first large-scale meta-analysis (review of relevant research literature) of school programs that focus on helping students improve their relationships with others and themselves

The research study looked at classroom based instruction conducted by the students’ teacher or by an outside instructor such as a university researcher. They looked at programs that were taught by a combination of classroom based instruction, additional school programs such as afterschool programs and within families.

They reviewed 213 school based programs focused on social and emotional development that were available to all students who did not have any identified behavioral issues. The programs included more than 270,000 K-12 students from rural, suburban and urban schools and crossed socio cultural backgrounds. 

The great news is that students who were in these types of program showed an improvement in their social and emotional skills. This means that these kids were far more caring, aware, less stressed and anxious and acted in positive ways with others in their schools and lives. The improvements were small but present nonetheless compared to the control group.

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Anyone selling happiness doesn't know anything about it

02/07/2011

Happy Faces Americans, we have been deceived. 

The great rat race doesn’t bring happiness!  More money doesn’t either!  Forgot what you were told:  more espresso shots to stay awake at work, Ambien to stay asleep at night, and Prozac to keep you from screaming aren’t actually inching you any closer to a happy life.

Throw out your self-help books and career guides.  It turns out happiness doesn’t come from success, success comes from happiness. 

If you want to be happy, research shows, deepen your sense of identity, your sense of intrinsic value, and find your purpose in life.  Do that, and success will follow.  Nothing else counts for nearly as much as we’ve been promised. 

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Artificial Intelligence's biggest success isn't making computers smarter -- it's making people dumber

02/04/2011

Mecha brain Back in 1997, when IBM’s computer “Deep Blue” beat the world’s (human) champion at chess, the news world erupted:  were human beings on the way out?

Well, were they? 

Today it doesn’t seem like it.  I doubt you can come up with a single substantive way that a computer being better at chess than Gary Kasparov has affected your life.  Sure, you use computers even more now, in even more ways, than you did ten years ago ... but that no longer feels threatening. In fact, when IBM’s newest supercomputer “Watson” beat the all-time (human) Jeopardy champion in a test match, nobody panicked. 

The success of Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t seem to threaten humanity at all. 

But the failure of AI may be doing lasting and terrible damage. 

Artificial Intelligence is much better understood through its failures than its successes.  Sure, we’ve taught a computer to win at Jeopardy, but was that actually something we set out to do?  No – the field set out to create true “thinking machines.”  In 1963 the scientists at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laborabory (SAIL) anticipated that making a computer capable of truly understanding the world as people do would take about a decade.  Alan Turing expected AI machines to be able to make moral judgments. 

Today we’re not even close – even Watson, the Jeopardy winning computer, doesn’t “understand” the world, it just searches the web for terms that are linked together.  It’s found that “Jericho” is the link between “Joshua,” “city,” and “walls fell.”  

But rather than admitting failure and thereby celebrating what human intelligence is, AI researchers ... and the business world ... are trying to pull human intelligence down to the level of a machine. 

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Children without community suffer the worst effects of poverty

02/03/2011

It’s been well established that poverty hurts the well being of children.  Bad health, obesity, mental illness – these are associated with childhood poverty and everybody knows it.  What we’re discovering now is that a lack of community engagement and connections caused by poverty might be a cause. 

A new study published in Psychological Science, looked at the long term outcomes for children who were living in poverty in rural upstate New York. Over ten years ago a research team lead by Gary Evans of Cornell University were looking for an answer to the question “What is it about poverty that leads to these negative outcomes?” Their research study shows that the lack of financial capital isn’t the only factor.

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Politicians couldn't predict the violence in Egypt, but political scientists did

02/02/2011

800px-Central_Security_Forces_in_2011_Egyptian_Protests In between wondering what’s next for the Middle East, most of the world is taking the time to be surprised.  Nobody saw the revolution coming in Tunisia.  Nobody predicted the street protests in Egypt.

At least, we didn’t.  As it happens, somebody predicted exactly what was going to happen in those countries ... and in Iran, and in Jordon. 

In fact, three academics developed a model of predicting political turmoil that is now 7 for 7 on predictions of global unrest. 

The Predictive Societal Indicators of Radicalism Model of Domestic Political Violence Forecast was developed by two Kansas State University professors, Sam Bell Amanda Murdie in collaboration with Professor Cingranelli at SUNY Binghamton University.  It lists 37 nations that the model believes will see domestic political uprisings in the next five years – and so far all seven nations to do so since the 2010 predictions were made (including Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt) are, in fact, on the list.  

The tool was developed for an Open Innovation company called Milcord that builds knowledge management systems for federal governments. The researchers compiled a database based on public information on 150 countries. The data cover the amount and intensity of politically motivated domestic violence spanning two decades from 1990-2009. The violence includes a full spectrum from non-violent sit-ins that go over the edge to politically motivated bombings.   

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Turns out "Tiger mothers" have the same problems as every other mom

02/01/2011

Tiger Mother cover Everybody is arguing about “Tiger Mothers” these days ... but are they having the right argument? 

The trouble with the debate sparked by Amy Chua’s book is that it assumes that the only relevant questions in parenting are:  how authoritarian are you? 

There’s no question Chua went over the top:  when she writes about forcing her children to sit for hours with threats of no food, no water, no bathroom, until you perform perfectly ... doesn’t that sound like torture?  But there’s also no evidence to suggest that lax parenting is a good thing.  Authoritarian ... permissive ... is this really what matters in how happy and well adjusted children become?

A recent study out of Hong Kong suggests it's not.  This 2010 longitudinal study of 346 Hong Kong 7th graders found that the degree to which 7th graders thought their mothers cared about them was more relevant to their long-term life satisfaction than how strict their mothers were. 

In other words, how “authoritarian” and “permissive” mothers were didn’t actually matter all that much – but their relationship with the child, how loved the child felt and how much the children thought they mattered – was pretty important. 

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