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5 Life-Changing Acts of Courage To an observer, these 5 acts of "ordinary courage"may not appear heroic--or even noteworthy. But each one is a step on the royal road to happiness, maturity, and personal integrity.read more
Feminine Foes: New Science Explores Female Competition A host of studies in recent years have shown convincingly that the traditional view of women as passive and uncompetitive is wrong. Women, it turns out, are engaged in a competition of their own, aggressively jockeying for position in a battle to secure a suitable mate.read more
Painless Brain Stimulation Improves Mental Arithmetic in Five Days Transcranial Random Noise Stimulation can improve learning and speed up mental calculations.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
From the Observer archive, 28 January 1968: the truth parents must face about 'abnormal' teens Thanks to advertising and TV, our adolescents differ from their forebearsTeenagers' behaviour is "normally abnormal", writes Dr Gordon Stewart Prince, consultant in child psychiatry to King's College, London, in a new booklet to be published by the National Association for Mental Health next week.Dr Prince believes that today's adolescents live in circumstances that differ in three ways from previous teenage generations:1. They have more money to spend and so their tastes, habits and behaviour have been influenced by commercialism. The pressures of advertising have encouraged them to regard themselves as a special group.2. Television and other mass media have made them considerably more sophisticated. Parents and teachers are no longer unchallenged arbiters of behaviour.3. There is less emotional difference between teenagers and their parents. Grown-ups are far less authoritarian than they were.Dr Prince thinks, however, that probably no more harm is being done by permissiveness, affluence and independence than was done formerly by intolerant, repressive discipline. It is healthier, he asserts, for teenagers to challenge their parents' authority and to want to make their own judgments than to be protected from ever making a mistake.Parents have to accept the role of the middle-aged square. "If you aren't a bit square, your teenagers have nothing to rebel against." They also need to be aware of their own envy of the young. A middle-aged mother, says Dr Prince, particularly if she has been cheated of romance or sexual fulfilment, may see her young daughter as a sexual rival who makes her conscious of the lines around her eyes or her greying hair.Parents also need to guard against making hard or fast moral rules. Now that contraceptives are widely used and freely available, moral prohibitions can no longer be enforced by fear. It is more difficult for parents to be dogmatic.When discussing drug-taking, Dr Prince is not himself dogmatic about the harmful use of "soft" drugs. He says, however, that it is an undisputed fact that "hard" drugs cause rapid and inevitable physical addiction and deterioration.He believes there is today a pathological over-valuation of academic success. There is an adult impression that anyone who doesn't obtain five O-levels is a pathetic, inadequate failure.Parents should learn to take the adolescent's long hair and flamboyant clothing in their stride.This is an edited extractParents and parentingChildrenPsychologytheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Highly reliable brain-imaging protocol identifies delays in premature infants Infants born prematurely are at elevated risk for cognitive, motor, and behavioral deficits -- the severity of which was, until recently, almost impossible to accurately predict in the neonatal period with conventional brain-imaging technology. But physicians may now be able to identify the premature infants most at risk for deficits as well as the type of deficit, enabling them to quickly initiate early neuroprotective therapies, by using highly reliable 3-D MRI imaging techniques developed by clinician scientists.
Men Forget More Than Women It's a mystery: men report their memory is worse than women.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
How my children became my greatest teachers Childhood trauma left Roman Krznaric emotionally withdrawn. Since then, he has tried to repair the damage and his own children have taught him how to step into someone else's shoesI have almost no memories before the age of 10, when my mother died of breast cancer. Blanking out the past is a common trauma response in children. Like many others, I became emotionally withdrawn and desensitised. I almost never cried.Growing up, I knew this was the reason why I rarely felt other people's joys and found it equally hard to connect with their sorrows. But it was only a few years ago that I realised it was also the spur to my obsessive research into empathy: I was driven by an unconscious desire to recover the empathic self I had lost as a child. This realisation launched me on a personal quest to explore – and tackle – my empathy deficit through my family life. Empathy is the imaginative act of stepping into the shoes of another person and understanding their feelings and perspectives. That makes it very different from sympathy, which is an emotional response, such as pity or feeling sorry for someone, that does not involve trying to grasp their viewpoint or experiences. And here's something interesting: over the last decade, the frequency of internet searches for the word "empathy" have more than doubled, while searches for "sympathy" have fallen by around 30%.The growing interest in empathy isn't surprising. Neuroscientists now tell us that we are far more than individualistic, self-seeking creatures – 98% of us have the ability to empathise. Among the exceptions are psychopaths, who have the cognitive capacity to step into your mind but make no emotional bond with you (think Hannibal Lecter). Moreover, we have a 10-section "empathy circuit" embedded in our brains. Damage part of it and you might lose your emotional response to your child's cries, or be unable to read fear in someone's face.The big question is how we can get better at empathising – fully realise the potential wired into us by evolution – and put it to good use in our everyday relationships. And that's something I've learned about not so much from science journals, but from being schooled in empathy as a father, a partner and a son.My first empathy teachers have been my children, girl-boy twins who have recently turned five. I started observing their own empathic development as toddlers. At the age of around 18 months, if my son was crying, his sister would often try to comfort him by giving him her favourite toy dog. A kindly gesture, but not much use. Fast forward a year and when my son was in tears, his sister handed him his cherished toy cat. It worked and she knew it. I was witnessing the cognitive leap of empathy: my daughter was now able to escape her own viewpoint and understand what mattered from her brother's perspective.This empathic capacity to recognise that other people may have different feelings and needs from ourselves develops in most children by the age of two or three. Psychologists sometimes call it theory of mind. George Bernard Shaw was aware of its importance when he quipped, "Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you – they might have different tastes." Empathy, I was learning, is about discovering those different tastes.It was in my relationship with my father that I began to grasp the subtle power of empathy to deepen human connections. I've always got on well with my dad, but at the same time felt a distance because of the way he tends to keep his feelings to himself – pretty normal for someone of his generation. Things began to change when I embarked on a project to interview him about his life, growing up in the turbulence of Poland during the second world war, then emigrating to Australia (where I was born) as a refugee in the early 50s.Over seven years, I recorded him talking about his experiences, and very gradually he began to open up. I started to discover how the war had affected him: it had split up his family, his mother had become mentally ill, he had witnessed terrible violence, he ended up having to beg for food. Stories I had never heard before.As the years passed, our conversations delved into his struggles to make a life in Australia out of nothing to support his family, and the long months nursing my mother as she went in and out of hospital. It was only then, as he talked about his desperate efforts to keep her alive and to care for me and my sister during her illness, that I saw him cry for the first time in my life. I cried with him and it was the closest I'd ever felt to him. I'll never forget it.I learned two things from this family history project. First, conversation is one of the best ways of creating empathic bonds. Getting beyond superficial talk and discussing what really matters in our lives, and making ourselves emotionally vulnerable to others in the process, helps to spin invisible threads that bind people together.What really astonished me, though, was that we can spend years knowing someone – in this case, my father – yet still not really know them, not understand the hidden thoughts inside their heads. Having spoken to my dad, and been able to look through his eyes, I now had a new appreciation of him. I could see how much he had suffered, and how much he had sacrificed for me; and that he was far more emotionally sensitive and attuned than I had ever imagined.I also saw that his desire for a secure, suburban life – an attitude I had never understood and secretly disdained – was clearly rooted in his dislocated wartime childhood. He was a product of his life circumstances, just as I was of mine. Empathy was a sublime gift that lifted the veil from my eyes.We all know, intuitively, that empathy is a tool for maintaining healthy relationships. We can all recall exasperated moments of arguing with our partners and thinking, "I wish he could just see my point of view!" or "Why can't she understand what I'm feeling?" What are we asking for in these situations? Empathy, of course. We want them to step into our shoes, if only for a moment. That's why couples counsellors and family therapists are so keen on encouraging empathic listening.What does it take to listen empathically? The good news is that it's a skill that can be learned, like riding a bike or driving a car. The trick is to make a habit of focusing mindfully and intently on understanding the other person's feelings and needs (and it might just induce them to return the favour). My partner and I make a point of practising it – especially when we spot the tension rising between us – by trying to listen to each other without interrupting. And it usually works, preventing niggling annoyance from turning into serious resentment or full-blown arguments.The psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, inventor of a conflict resolution method called Non-Violent Communication (NVC), points out that it can also help to paraphrase back to the other person what they have said, so they realise that you are really listening. "Studies in labour-management negotiations," he says, "demonstrate that the time to reach conflict resolution is cut in half when each negotiator agrees, before responding, to accurately repeat what the last speaker said."Family arguments are not exactly workplace disputes, but I've found that Rosenberg's approach really works with my kids. When one throws a tantrum, I try not to let the situation escalate to a point where I end up shouting at them (which happens, to my shame, all too often). Now I attempt to help them name their needs and feelings, perhaps asking, "Are you feeling cross because I can't play with you right now?"Then a near miracle can occur: they stop crying, they nod their heads, they tell me in a wobbly voice what they are feeling, I get a chance to explain my viewpoint, and everything calms down. It seems that on some fundamental level they just want to be listened to and understood (and don't we all?).Sometimes I'm wrong about why they are upset – a useful reminder of the mistaken assumptions we can make about others. It's good to know this kind of empathic listening approach has found its way into plenty of parenting manuals, such as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, which explicitly advises parents to put themselves in their children's shoes, and acknowledge and help articulate their feelings.A small measure of my empathic progress occurred last week when I saw my son gleefully pouring orange juice back and forth from one glass into another and making a huge mess all over the newly cleaned kitchen floor. Just when I was about to erupt at him, I stopped myself and asked curiously what he was up to."I'm doing science, Daddy. Look, the juice goes up higher in a thin glass."It hadn't occurred to me that there could be serious scientific research going on. How could I get upset at him for turning the kitchen table into a pop-up physics lab?I'm still struggling with empathy and trying to fully recover the circuitry in my brain that was latent in my childhood. I try to practise it not only in the kitchen, but out on the streets by having conversations with strangers, whether it's chatting to the woman who sells me bread each morning or to a homeless guy I see regularly outside the supermarket. I meet interesting characters, I have surprising – and sometimes inspiring – encounters with people whose lives are vastly different from my own.Ultimately, though, I have learned that empathy is the best glue for bonding a family together and forging the human relationships that make life worth living. And this matters in our age of hyper-individualism, where a barrage of free-market thinking, advertising propaganda and simplistic self-help is telling us we should busy ourselves with looking after No 1. Empathy is the antidote we need to create a world where we embrace a philosophy of "You are, therefore I am".He has also started up the empathylibrary.com. Follow Roman @romankrznaric FamilyParents and parentingPsychologyBereavementHealth, mind and bodyRelationshipstheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
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Subliminal: The New Unconscious and What It Teaches Us by Leonard Mlodinow – review A fascinating insight into our "inner unknown self" and its role in shaping the world we knowThe American philosopher Charles Peirce described our ability to detect the unconscious clues that guide us to correct answers as "an inward light" – "the loftiest of our merely instinctive powers". Leonard Mlodinow agrees, and his well researched and very readable book argues that the new science and technology of brain imaging has begun to open the door on what was hitherto a closed room: our unconscious, or as Mlodinow calls it the "new unconscious", to distinguish it from Freud's view, which he largely rejects. According to Mlodinow, the unconscious is not there as a defence mechanism against inappropriate desires, but is "a gift of evolution that is crucial to our survival as a species". His study reveals how the hidden structures of the unconscious mind influence our view of self and the world, from the taste of beer (yes, price and packaging really do affect how it tastes) to how "branding a child a poor learner will contribute to making the child exactly that". A fascinating insight into our "inner unknown self" and its role in shaping the world we know. Health, mind and bodyScience and natureReference and languagesPaperbacksPsychologyPD Smiththeguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Infections damage ability to form spatial memories Increased inflammation following an infection impairs the brain's ability to form spatial memories, according to new research. The impairment results from a decrease in glucose metabolism in the brain's memory center, disrupting the neural circuits involved in learning and memory. This is the first study to image the effects of inflammation on the brain. The findings help explain why inflammation impairs memory and could spur the development of new drugs targeting the immune system to treat dementia.
Mindfulness at School Decreases Chance of Developing Depression Positive results from best study yet carried out on teaching mindfulness in schools.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Researchers find epileptic activity spreads in new way Biomedical engineers have found that epileptic activity can spread through a part of the brain in a new way, suggesting a possible novel target for seizure-blocking medicines. Evidence from a series of experiments and computer modeling strongly suggests individual cells in a part of the brain, known as the hippocampus, use a small electrical field to stimulate and synchronize neighboring cells, spreading the activity layer by layer.
Pulled Apart then Coming Back Together Can couples survive a military deployment? What types of challenges do military couples face after reuniting? Understanding the normal hurdles that couples encounter post-deployment can help partners find ways to grow and renew their relationship. Friends and family read on: learn what to expect for the couples you love after they reunite. read more
Dietary treatment shows potential in mouse model of Alzheimer's disease According to current understanding, Alzheimer's disease develops slowly and it may take up to 20 years before the first obvious symptoms occur. With the development of early diagnostics of the disease, the question of which treatments to offer to completely healthy people with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's becomes of key importance in the field of medicine. Various dietary treatments seem a promising alternative.
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