How Do You Get Narcissists To Care About Other People?

Post 5485  Robert T. Gonzalez

How Do You Get Narcissists To Care About Other People                            How Do You Get Narcissists To Care About Other People?

Narcissists are notoriously bad at empathizing, often to the detriment of their personal and professional relationships. So how do you get an egoist to imagine himself in someone else’s shoes? Believe it or not, it could be as simple as asking him to do just that.

Over at The Atlantic, Olga Khazan reports that psychologists have long regarded sub-clinical narcissists (i.e., otherwise functional people who just happen to be very narcissistic, as opposed to mentally ill people clinically diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) as “largely incorrigible.” That is to say, “there was nothing we could do to help them be more empathetic.” But the results of a newly published study led by University of Surrey psychologist Erica Hepper suggest that getting narcissists to feel other people’s pain could be as easy as asking them to imagine that they’re the ones suffering. In fact, this tactic had the best results in the most narcissistic people. Writes Khazan:

Hepper and her co-authors asked a group of 95 female undergrads to take [a narcissism quiz], and then later to watch a 10-minute documentary about Susan, a victim of spousal abuse. Half were told to try to put themselves in Susan’s shoes (“Imagine how Susan feels. Try to take her perspective in the video…”), while the others were told to imagine they were watching the program on TV one evening.

The subjects who were told to take Susan’s perspective were significantly more likely to score higher on empathy. In fact, the more narcissistic they were, the more the trick seemed to work.

“I think what’s going on here is that people who are low on narcissism are already responding to people—telling them what to do isn’t going to increase their empathy any further,” Hepper said. “But the higher on narcissism you get, the less empathy [you feel]. By instructing them to think about it, it activates this empathic response that was previously much weaker.”

Read about the other two components of the three-part study at The Atlantic.




Who Were the Vandals?

Post 5484

Who Were the Vandals?

We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory

Post 5483   Robert T. Gonzalez

We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory                                               We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory

Countless tests have shown that a good night’s sleep makes it easier to recall what you’ve learned. But we don’t know why. For decades, scientists have hypothesized that sleep strengthens our brains’ neural corrections, but direct evidence for this has been lacking. Now, we may finally have that evidence.

What Makes A Memory?

Decades of empirical research and millennia of collective experience have taught us that sleep deprivation impairs learning. A tired person is less able to focus, and therefore less able to grasp a new skill, than a rested one. We also know that sleep is vital to the fortification of new memories. After being exposed to new information, someone who experiences a good night’s sleep will have better recall of that information than someone who stays awake the whole night through. The apt apprentice listens well, sleeps soundly and repeats. She strengthens her memory (or her skillset, or knowledge base), by not only acquiring new information but consolidating it, so that it can be built upon in the future.

This much we know. What we don’t know is how sleep benefits memory. You might assume that when we talk about “building” upon previous knowledge, we’re employing a metaphor that describes additive physical changes in the brain. In reality, however, this relationship is not so clear-cut.

Yes, it is true that memory and learning are boosted by a good night’s rest. It has also been shown that learning can increase the strength of synapses (i.e. connections) between neurons. It is therefore tempting to conclude that sleep benefits memory by promoting the formation and fortification of synapses. In many studies, however, we see just the opposite.

We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory

In 2011, for example, researchers led by University of Wisconson–Madison psychologist Stephanie Maret showed that, in mice, sleep was actually associated with an overall decrease in tiny, brain-cell protrusions called dendritic spines. If you think of dendrites as branches that project from a neuron, dendritic spines are the leaves that project from those branches. Dendrites can link up with the dendrites of other neurons to form synapses, and dendritic spines help them do it. Studies like Maret’s therefore complicate the idea that sleep begets stronger, more plentiful synapses, while supporting the counterintuitive-sounding view that sleep actually weakens synapses related to learning and memory.

But today, our understanding of the relationship between sleep and synapse -formation takes a big step forward: In a study published in the latest issue of Science, researchers led by NYU neuroscientist Wen-Biao Gan have shown for the first time how learning and sleep promote physical changes in the motor cortices of mice. And, in an intriguing twist that seems to run counter to the results of studies like Maret’s, Gan’s team presents the first direct evidence that sleep after learning actually may actually strengthen the connections between brain cells by promoting the growth of dendritic spines that are directly associated with a newly learned task.

A Window To The Brain

The ingenuity with which Gan and his colleagues made their observations is almost as noteworthy as the findings, themselves.

We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory

First, Gan and his colleagues trained a total of fifteen mice to balance atop a rotating rod (think logrolling, like the guy on the left, only with mice). After training the mice for an hour, the team allowed some of them to fall asleep for seven hours. The others were kept awake.

The mice in this study were normal, save for a couple of careful modifications. Gan’s team genetically engineered the mice to express a protein that fluoresces yellow in a subset of neurons located in the motor cortex, a region of the brain responsible for voluntary muscle movement. Next, a small window was carved out of each mouse’s skull. This allowed Gan’s team to monitor the synaptic activity of live mice over several hours, or even days. “The skull window is vital,” Gan tells io9, “because it allows us to keep everything intact without damaging or irritating the brain.”

In the video above, Gan’s team uses a two-photon microscope to peer layer by layer, deeper and deeper into the motor cortex of a mouse whose motor neurons have been engineered to express yellow fluorescent protein. The first few seconds show the microscope stepping through the thin skull window before encountering darkness, where the dura (the thick membrane surrounding the brain) obscures the microscope’s view. But around the seven second mark, the microscope’s view plunges deep enough that axons, dendrites and – the littlest protrusions of all – dendritic spines come into view. By virtue of this method, which Gan’s team developed, the researchers were able to monitor the regulation of dendritic spine–growth in each live mouse in the hours before, during, and after sleep (or sleeplessness).

The results were stark: Gan and his colleagues found that the sleep-deprived mice sprouted significantly fewer dendritic spines than those that were permitted to rest, and the rate of spine formation was correlated with the degree of task improvement. Growth was shown to be most dramatic during the slow-wave, non-REM stage of sleep. What’s more, the benefits of sleep seem to carry on well after the mice woke up, with roughly 5% of new spines in the motor cortex developing in the 24 hours after the mice awoke. The mice that slept were also more likely to retain the spines they grew. In some circumstances, it seems sleep could in fact lead to the growth of new synapses.

We May Finally Know Why Sleep Improves Memory

Image Credit: AAAS

The researchers went on to demonstrate that the neuronal branches involved in the rod-balancing task were reactivated during this period of slow-wave sleep. Neuroal reactivation during sleep has been observed in the past, but Gan’s team took it a step further by blocking the reactivation. When they did, it impeded the formation of new spines, suggesting that reactivation plays some role in stabilizing the dendritic spines sprouted during sleep.

Finally, Gan tells io9 that one of the study’s most surprising findings was not directly related to sleep. In a previous study, Gan and his colleagues used the skull-window technique to demonstrate that teaching mice to balance atop the rod led to the formation of new spines along dendrites in the motor cortex. The present study corroborates those findings, but it also shows that teaching the mice a new motor task (for instance, balancing on the rod as it spins in the reverse direction) caused dendritic spines to sprout on an entirely new dendritic branch – i.e., a branch distinct from the one that shot out spines in reaction to learning to balance on a forward-spinning rod. In other words: learning a new motor skill won’t cause dendritic spines to appear just anywhere. Rather, the team’s findings suggest that synaptic change in the mammalian brain occurs in a site-specific fashion.

Read the full study in the latest issue of Science.

Top Photo via Shutterstock


An Argentinian UFO Hovers Mysteriously Over a Forested Hill

Post 5482   Annalee Newitz

An Argentinian UFO Hovers Mysteriously Over a Forested Hill       An Argentinian UFO Hovers Mysteriously Over a Forested Hill

This UFO was captured in the skies above Tucumán, Argentina. What kind of craft could zoom so close to the treetops and then into the skies?

An Argentinian UFO Hovers Mysteriously Over a Forested Hill

Inexplicata has the story:

A mysterious dot of light – manmade, natural or alien, take your pick – was photographed by Javier Lopez Posse on May 24, 2014 in daylight on a cloudy fall day.

Nothing like enhanced images of teeny dots to make me a believer.


Father finds heartbreaking note from daughter days after she died of cancer

Post 5481       Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News

Father finds heartbreaking note from daughter days after she died of cancer

‘Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story’                                                                                                                                        Athena Orchard's note behind the mirror      Athena Orchard's note behind the mirror

Athena Orchard’s note behind the mirror

A 12-year-old girl who died following a battle with cancer left a heart-wrenching secret message hidden on the back of her mirror. Athena Orchard died last Wednesday (May 28) after losing her fight with the terminal disease. Just days after her death, Athena’s dad, Dean, was stunned to discover a giant heartfelt note written in marker pen on the back of his daughter’s mirror. The message was written after Athena was diagnosed with cancer, which she discovered after finding a tiny lump on her head last December. Before she died, she penned the lengthy message, which remained undiscovered until days after her death. (Caters News Agency)Athena Orchard's note behind the mirror


The father of a 12-year-old girl who lost her battle with cancer last week says he was shocked to find she had left behind a long, handwritten message on the back of a mirror.

“It was a stand-up mirror in her room, and it was always lent up against the wall so we never saw behind it,” Dean Orchard, of Leicester, England, told the Leicester Mercury. “She never mentioned it, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do.”

Athena Orchard was diagnosed with cancer in December after discovering a lump on her head and collapsing in her home. She died on May 28.

“She was a very spiritual person, she’d go on about stuff that I could never understand — she was so clever,” Dean recalled.

Dean was moving things around in Athena’s room when he discovered the message.

“When I moved the mirror after she died, I couldn’t believe it,” the 33-year-old said. “I saw all this writing — it must have been about 3,000 words.”

Here are just some of them:  Happiness depends upon ourselves.

 Happiness depends upon ourselves.
Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. Happiness is a direction, not a destination.

Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young.

You know my name, not my story.

You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.

Love is like glass, looks so lovely, but it’s easy to shatter.

Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change.

Life is only bad if you make it bad.

Remember that life is full of ups and downs, without the downs the ups don’t mean anything.

I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to.

Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it’s about who you can’t see spending your life without.

Life is a game for everyone, but love is the only prize.                                                                                                     

“When I first saw it, it just blew me away,” Dean Orchard said. “I started reading it but before long I had to stop because it was too much — it was heartbreaking.”

The message, written in marker, also makes reference to her cancer diagnosis:

Every day is special, so make the most of it. You could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day.

Athena’s funeral is scheduled for June 12.

“She was the bravest person I know,” her mother, Caroline, told the paper. “She was always trying to make sure other people were OK before worrying about herself. She was always being positive.”