Category Archives: Affect/emtion

NEWSWEEK on the ‘new (neuro)science of feelings’

NEWSWEEK reports on new neuroscience research into human emotion, which appears to be more closely linked to cognition than was thought to be the case just a couple of decades ago:

From the earliest days of brain mapping—determining which regions are responsible for which functions—neuroscientists traced feelings and thoughts to structures that were barely within hailing distance of each other. The limbic system deep in the brain, including the amygdala and hippocampus, seemed to be the brain’s holy terror of a 2-year-old, the site of anger, fear, and anxiety, as well as positive emotions. The frontal cortex, just behind the forehead, was the exalted thinker, where forethought and judgment, reason and volition, attention and cognition came from. As recently as the 1980s, neuroscientists focused almost exclusively on cognition and the other functions of the frontal cortex; emotions were deemed of so little interest that neuroscience left them to psychology…

[Subsequent research has found that] both prefrontal-cortex activity and the number of pathways sending calming signals to the amygdala determine just how easily a person will bounce back from adversity. Through these two mechanisms, our “thinking brain” is able to calm our “feeling” self, enabling the brain to plan and act effectively without being distracted by negative emotion.

New York Times on “the hormone surge of middle childhood”

The New York Times reports:

Said to begin around 5 or 6, when toddlerhood has ended and even the most protractedly breast-fed children have been weaned, and to end when the teen years commence, middle childhood certainly lacks the physical flamboyance of the epochs fore and aft: no gotcha cuteness of babydom, no secondary sexual billboards of pubescence.

Yet as new findings from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, paleontology and anthropology make clear, middle childhood is anything but a bland placeholder. To the contrary, it is a time of great cognitive creativity and ambition, when the brain has pretty much reached its adult size and can focus on threading together its private intranet service — on forging, organizing, amplifying and annotating the tens of billions of synaptic connections that allow brain cells and brain domains to communicate.

Retrieval failure: Cognitive neuroscientists interpret Rick Perry’s debate ‘brain freeze’

The Washington Post reports:

To neuroscientists, what happened to Texas Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday night looked like something very ordinary, exacerbated by stress: a “retrieval failure.”

It happens more often as we age. But the brain scientists say it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of an intellectual deficit or some medical problem. Instead, they say, retrieval failures offer a glimpse into how the brain does and doesn’t work, not just in the skulls of presidential candidates but for everyone else, too.

New research describes “pathological altruism”

The New York Times reports:

The author of “On Being Certain” and the coming “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind,” Dr. [Robert A.] Burton is a contributor to a scholarly yet surprisingly sprightly volume called “Pathological Altruism,” to be published this fall by Oxford University Press. And he says his colleague’s behavior is a good example of that catchily contradictory term, just beginning to make the rounds through the psychological sciences.

As the new book makes clear, pathological altruism is not limited to showcase acts of self-sacrifice, like donating a kidney or a part of one’s liver to a total stranger. The book is the first comprehensive treatment of the idea that when ostensibly generous “how can I help you?” behavior is taken to extremes, misapplied or stridently rhapsodized, it can become unhelpful, unproductive and even destructive.

New study argues that less agreeable people earn more

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A new study finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones. The gap is especially wide for men.

The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.

A pre-press version of the study, by Judge, Livingston & Hurst, is available here (PDF).

New research finds altruism and cooperation among humans may have emerged from prehistoric warfare

The New York Times reports:

Compared with other species, humans are highly cooperative and altruistic, at least toward members of their own group. Evolutionary biologists have been hard pressed to account for this self-sacrificing behavior, given that an altruist who works for the benefit of others will have less time for his family’s interests and leave fewer surviving children. Genes for altruistic behavior should therefore disappear…

Warfare “may have contributed to the spread of human altruism,” [economist Samuel Bowles] and his colleague Herbert Gintis write in their new book, “A Cooperative Species”(Princeton, 2011). “We initially recoiled at this unpleasant and surprising conclusion. But the simulations and the data on prehistoric warfare tell a convincing story.”

Archaeology lends some support to the idea. “Groups that successfully organize themselves to raid others will acquire external resources and, in the long run, will be at a selective advantage against groups that are less well organized,” [archeologists Charles Stanish and Abigail Levine] write of their findings in the Central Andes.

Study finds exposure to image of U. S. flag affected subjects’ political affiliation

Discover Magazine reports:

the star-spangled banner is more than a symbol; it can also influence minds in unexpected ways. Travis Carter from the University of Chicago has found that when people think about voting decisions, the mere sight of the American flag can subtly shift their political views… towards Republicanism.  It’s an effect that holds in both Democrats and Republicans, it affects actual votes, and it lasts for at least 8 months.