Comments Off on Eyewitnesses are not reliable

Eyewitnesses are not reliable

Posted January 31st, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Eyewitnesses play a key role in police investigations. But how likely is it that they remember correctly? Today the police place far too much emphasis on eyewitness accounts, according to Farhan Sarwar from Lund University in Sweden. The research supports the perspective advanced by NLP experts and brain science research which argues that our account of the “truth” or “reality” is only our perception of it which is affected by our values, experiences, senses and many other things. Our brain is not a recorder, it is an interpreter of events.

Those who have witnessed a crime would do best not to tell anyone about it. Contrary to what one might believe, a person’s memory of an event is not improved by retelling the story. Instead, the risk of an incorrect account increases the more the story is retold and discussed.

“The most accurate witness statements come from people who have seen a crime and then write down what happened before they recount it or discuss it with anyone,” says Farhan Sarwar.

However, it is quite unusual for witnesses to do this. On the contrary, many want to immediately discuss what they have seen. One example of how wrong they can be is the eyewitness descriptions of Anna Lindh’s murderer. Those who were there and saw the murderer were in agreement that he was wearing military clothing. When the pictures from the department store’s cameras were examined, it could be seen that he was wearing normal sports clothes.

Farhan Sarwar’s studies show that eyewitnesses are particularly bad at remembering details, such as what the perpetrator was wearing or what weapon was used. On the other hand, they are better at recalling the key events.

A witness who has told his story many times may become increasingly sure of the details of the crime. This could have devastating consequences for a criminal investigation, as the police place great importance on how confident the witness is, says Farhan Sarwar.

But if eyewitness accounts are so flawed, should they be used at all?

“Yes,” says Farhan Sarwar. “Criminals are getting increasingly canny. They rarely leave any clues. Therefore, eyewitness accounts are still the most important thing the police have to go on. However, the police must be aware of how much importance they attribute to them.”

Alongside the work on his thesis, Farhan Sarwar has developed a method to measure the likelihood of eyewitness accounts being correct, together with colleague Sverker Sikström. He has written a computer program that uses algorithms to give a reliable percentage figure for how likely it is that an eyewitness really has remembered correctly.

Testing on the method is not yet complete, but when it is ready the program will quickly be able to process a large number of recorded witness statements. He can already see a number of areas for use: courts, police questioning, security services, insurance companies, etc.

Comments Off on Sleep helps you learn

Sleep helps you learn

Posted January 27th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

There is some cheering news for students preparing for exams. They can memorize new knowledge by just going to sleep.

Researchers in Germany found that the brain is better during sleep than during wakefulness at resisting attempts to scramble or corrupt a recent memory.

Their study illuminates the complex process by which we store and retrieve acquired information — learning, in short, the journal Nature Neuroscience reports.

Fresh memories, stored temporarily in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, do not gel immediately, earlier research showed.

It was also known that reactivation of those memories soon after learning plays a crucial role in their transfer to more permanent storage in the brain’s ‘hard drive,’ the neocortex, according to the Daily Mail.

During wakefulness, however, this period of reactivation renders the memories more fragile. Learning a second poem at this juncture, for example, will likely make it harder to commit the first one to deep memory.

Susanne Diekelmann of the University of Lubeck, Germany, who conducted the study said: “The positive impact of short periods of sleep on memory consolidation could have implications for memory-intensive activities such as language training.”

Twenty-four volunteers were asked to memorise 15 pairs of cards showing pictures of animals and everyday objects. While performing the exercise, they were exposed to a slightly unpleasant odour.

Forty minutes later, half the subjects who had stayed awake were asked to learn a second, slightly different pattern of cards.

Just before starting, they were again made to smell the same odour, designed to trigger their memory of the first exercise.

Both groups were then tested on the original task. The sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on an average 85 per cent of the patterns, compared to 60 per cent for those who remained awake.

Comments Off on The way that couples talk to each other can predict relationship success

The way that couples talk to each other can predict relationship success

Posted January 27th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Ever notice that the kind of language you use is either very similar or very different than your significant other? Does it impact the success of your relationship?  There’s some evidence to indicate similar language patterns may increase compatibility.

We know that people tend to be attracted to, date, and marry other people who resemble themselves in terms of personality, values, and physical appearance. However, these features only skim the surface of what makes a relationship work. The ways that people talk are also important. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people who speak in similar styles are more compatible.

The study focused on words called “function words.” These aren’t nouns and verbs; they’re the words that show how those words relate. They’re hard to explicitly define, but we use them all the time—words like the, a, be, anything, that, will, him, and and. How we use these words constitutes our writing and speaking style, says study coauthor James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin.

“Function words are highly social and they require social skills to use,” he says. “For example, if I’m talking about the article that’s coming out, and in a few minutes I make some reference to ‘the article,’ you and I both know what the article means.” But someone who wasn’t part of that conversation wouldn’t understand.

Pennebaker, Molly Ireland, and their colleagues examined whether the speaking and writing styles couples adopt during conversation with each other predict future dating behavior and the long-term strength of relationships. They conducted two experiments in which a computer program compared partners’ language styles.

In the first study, pairs of college students had four-minute speed dates while their conversations were recorded. Almost every pair covered the same topics: What’s your major? Where are you from? How do you like college? Every conversation sounded more or less the same to the naked ear, but text analysis revealed stark differences in language synchrony. The pairs whose language style matching scores were above average were almost four times as likely to want future contact as pairs whose speaking styles were out of sync.

A second study revealed the same pattern in everyday online chats between dating couples over the course of 10 days. Almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later, compared with approximately 54 percent of the couples who didn’t match as well.

What people are saying to each other is important, but how they are saying it may be even more telling. People aren’t consciously synchronizing their speech, Pennebaker says. “What’s wonderful about this is we don’t really make that decision; it just comes out of our mouths.”

Are you wondering whether you and your partner have matching language styles? Visit James Pennebaker’s “In Synch: Language Style Matching” application online to find out!

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.

Journal Reference:

  1. M. E. Ireland, R. B. Slatcher, P. W. Eastwick, L. E. Scissors, E. J. Finkel, J. W. Pennebaker. Language Style Matching Predicts Relationship Initiation and StabilityPsychological Science, 2010; 22 (1): 39 DOI: 10.1177/0956797610392928
Comments Off on Mindfulness training makes beneficial changes in brain

Mindfulness training makes beneficial changes in brain

Posted January 23rd, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.  Such training is a fundamental part of my mentoring and coaching program for my clients.

In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain’s grey matter. “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, MR images were take of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Comments Off on Packing up your troubles actually works

Packing up your troubles actually works

Posted January 22nd, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Finding it hard to get over a failed love interest? Just can’t get details of a bad financial move out of your head? Maybe you just need to put those problems (either visually, in writing or really) into a box, seal it and put it away.

A new study from the Rotman School of Management suggests you might want to stick something related to your disappointment in a box or envelope if you want to feel better. In four separate experiments researchers found that the physical act of enclosing materials related to an unpleasant experience, such as a written recollection about it, improved people’s negative feelings towards the event and created psychological closure. Enclosing materials unrelated to the experience did not work as well. Check the end of this report for a link to download the full study.

“If you tell people, ‘You’ve got to move on,’ that doesn’t work,” said Dilip Soman, who holds the Corus Chair in Communication Strategy at the Rotman School and is also a professor of marketing, who co-wrote the paper with colleagues Xiuping Li from the National University of Singapore and Liyuan Wei from City University of Hong Kong. “What works is when people enclose materials that are relevant to the negative memories they have. It works because people aren’t trying to explicitly control their emotions.”

While the market implications might not be immediately obvious, Prof. Soman believes the findings point to new angles on such things as fast pick-up courier services and pre-paid mortgage deals that relieve people’s sense of debt burden. If people realize that the memory of past events or tasks can be distracting, perhaps there is a market for products and services that can enclose or take away memories of that task.

Comments Off on Couples argue mostly on Thursday evenings about small stuff

Couples argue mostly on Thursday evenings about small stuff

Posted January 21st, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

There are the really big issues that divide couples … and then there are the very, very small ones.

And the latter don’t half add up. Minor irritations such as leaving wet towels on the bed, flicking between TV channels and hoarding bits and bobs cause most of the 312 arguments that the average couple has each year, researchers say.

Those little annoying habits can become such a big problem that one in five Britons have even considered them a reason to split up – with a Thursday evening the most likely time for an argument to develop.

According to the researchers in the U.K., women tend to become more frustrated with their partner’s habits than men.

The most common complaints include a toilet roll not being replaced, lights that aren’t switched off, channel hopping and the toilet seat being left up. But men aren’t immune to getting irritated either.

They grit their teeth when their partner takes too long to get ready, clogs up the sink with hair or nags them about chores.

The statistics emerged in a study of 3,000 adults by

Spokesman Nick Elson said: ‘All couples argue but to see how much time they argue over simply things like household chores was a bit of an eye opener.

‘It seems a lot of time to be wasting bickering however annoying habits can get.’

The study found the kitchen is also a common battleground for arguments about cleanliness.

Although men were more relaxed in general they are more likely to consider ending a relationship over things like taking too long to get ready and nagging them about chores.

Other habits that partners listed as annoying included leaving dirty cups around the house, hoarding stuff, flicking TV channels and leaving tissues all over the house.

Eight out of ten people said they often found themselves cleaning up after their other half rather than continue to nag them.

One in four credit their nagging with changing their partner’s behaviour.

A fifth of those surveyed have even considered splitting up with their partner over their annoying habits.

In the U.K., Welsh couples were revealed as the most argumentative, while Scots were revealed to be quite laid back and the least likely to argue or get annoyed with one another.


1. Stubble in the sink

2. Dirty marks in the toilet

3. Flicking TV channels

4. Not replacing the toilet roll

5. Leaving the seat up

6. Leaving lights on

7. Leaving dirty cups around the house

8. Leaving wet towels on the floor/bed

9. Hoarding stuff

10. Not flushing the toilet


1. Taking too long to get ready

2. Nagging about chores

3. Leaving lights on

4. Hair in the plughole

5. Hoarding stuff

6. Overfilling bins

7. Leaving tissues around the house

8. Leaving dirty cups around the house

9. Flicking TV channels

10. Watching soaps

Nick Elson added: ‘It seems like couples find chores a real source of annoyance which is a real shame as the bathroom should be a relaxing place where people can unwind after a hard day.

‘Most of the things listed here as annoying habits are no doubt frustrating but there are always solutions to problems’

‘Whether it’s introducing a new towel rack to help them dry or having a larger toilet roll holder. And if you clean after yourself as you go it will help reduce mess and dirt in the long-term.’

Perhaps we should take heed of the expression, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Comments Off on Is the middles class disappearing?

Is the middles class disappearing?

Posted January 17th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The Middle Class is in serious trouble, world-wide. And this current recession has magnified how serious the problem is, even though there are differences among Western countries and third world nations.

Steven Pressman, an economist, reports in his book, The Decline of the Middle Class: An International Perspective, that from 1980 to 2000 when we experienced explosive economic growth, most western nations saw their middle class shrink. Pressman says that most of shrinkage was a result of people falling into the poverty class and a few up into the higher bracket. And the experience in the U.S. has been vastly different that that of Canada and the Scandinavian countries.

Let’s take a look at the U.S.

Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School in her testimony before the Senate Finance Committee in May, 2007 reported that over the past 30 years, most people have seen only modest salary increases in America, an increase of about 10% over 29 years. Since the 1970s, the income gaps have been rapidly widening. In the U.S., today’s median-earning family is making a lot more money than their parents did a generation ago.  But, in fact, the typical man working full-time today, after adjusting for inflation, earns about $800 less than his father earned back in the early 1970s. When wages quit increasing, how did family incomes rise? Warren says because of women in workforce. All the growth in family income came from adding a second earner. But where did all the money go? Warren says the story is all about over-consumption, about families spending their money on things they don’t really need. It is about going deep into debt to finance consumer purchases.

Is the situation any different in Canada, Europe or developing nations? Generally speaking, the middle class has fared a lot better in Canada, Scandinavian countries and Germany than in the U.S. or developing countries where the middle class is almost non-existent. Yet the same disturbing trends are there as in the U.S.

What’s the difference? Pressman says one thing: government. All the handouts, tax benefits, subsidies and rebates that transfer money into middle-class pockets. Without government help, Canada’s and Europe’s middle class would be endangered. Presssman says that in a modern global economy, the middle class can only be self-sustaining with active government programs, because the free market produces great inequalities of income. He says that contrary to popular belief, the countries that are doing well are the ones that have robust tax-and-spend programs.  And an interesting caveat to Pressman’s assertion is that the countries that are helping their middle class the most are not doing so at the expense of the wealthy but at the expense of the poor.

The survival of the middle class is reliant on a thriving and open market economy, but its size and sustainability are equally dependent on the tax-and-spend mechanisms of the modern welfare state–which it turns out, are even more important in globalized, high competition economies. One caveat to this research is the explosive growth of the middle class in the developing economies in countries such as China, India and Brazil

There was a time when the middle class occupied a wide and comfortable place in our society. Until the last decade, that status could be reached without extreme grasping, and many people enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. It meant a stable job, a house, two cars for two garages, a pension or retirement savings plan and lots of discretionary spending. That probability is now in jeopardy. It may be that having it all is what you shared in common with your neighbors, but you may soon be a member of a disappearing species.

Comments Off on The economics of happiness

The economics of happiness

Posted January 16th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm — an economics of localization.

The link below to a video gives a global perspective on the issue of the economics of happiness.

We hear from a chorus of voices from six continents including Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Michael Shuman, Juliet Schor, Zac Goldsmith and Samdhong Rinpoche – the Prime Minister of Tibet’s government in exile. They tell us that climate change and peak oil give us little choice: we need to localize, to bring the economy home. The good news is that as we move in this direction we will begin not only to heal the earth but also to restore our own sense of well-being. The Economics of Happiness restores our faith in humanity and challenges us to believe that it is possible to build a better world.

Comments Off on What Gen Y can teach us

What Gen Y can teach us

Posted January 14th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Much has been written about the impact of Generation Y on the workplace and what managers must do to adapt to Gen Y employees. In my Financial Post Blog I said that Generation Y employees have the most potential to change the nature of leadership in organizations because of their values and how they view work. The vast majority of Gen Y entering the workforce today are knowledge workers. They often have more knowledge and skill sets than their baby boomer managers, and are less likely to tolerate a command-and-control traditional leadership style.Gen Y workers want to learn, to be challenged, have access to the latest information and technology. And they want to be apart of an organization that respects them for their knowledge and ideas.

Gen Y workers don’t measure success by the same benchmarks as previous generations. Success in the digital age will require businesses to adopt many of the same benchmarks of the multi-tasking, social networking people who dominate them.

So what can Gen Y workers teach us?  Here are some observations:

  • Gen Y adeptly melds the physical and business world together, using emails, text messaging, and online networking to stay in constant contact
  • Gen Y are all about relationships. Given a choice between a product, service or employer that is more personable, Gen Y will choose personable
  • Networking will be a 24/7 activity for Gen Y employees
  • Social networking is not just about filling space—the space has to be interesting, informative, and provide value
  • Gen Y wants opportunities to express themselves using social networking
Comments Off on What does music and sex have in common?

What does music and sex have in common?

Posted January 11th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

A new study shows that a favorite piece of music can make your brain release dopamine, just like having sex, using drugs, or eating good food. Researchers at Canada’s McGill University say their findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, will help us understand both our minds and our evolution better. Here’s a look at what sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have in common:

What exactly did the McGill team study?
Valorie Salimpoor and her team had eight participants from a pool of 217 volunteers listen to a piece of instrumental music that consistently gave them “chills,” and scanned their brains over the course of three listening sessions. They also measured the “chills” themselves, through changes in the subjects’ temperature, skin conductance, heart rate, and breathing. The other 209 contenders were eliminated because they didn’t reliably get goosebumps, or because they brought music with lyrics, which the McGill team avoided to keep the study focused on music.

So what did the participants want to hear?
The most popular piece was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” both the orchestral version and a techno dance remix. Other hits included Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. But participants didn’t just pick classical: Punk, jazz, rock, and even bagpipe music made appearances, too.

How much happier does music make us?
The participants’ dopamine levels rose by up to 9 percent when they were listening to music they enjoyed, and “one person experienced a 21 percent increase,” says Salimpoor. “That demonstrates that, for some people, it can be really intensely pleasurable.” People who don’t get chills also experience the rise in dopamine, says study co-author Robert Zatorre, as did the eight subjects when they listened to other participants’ selections, but the rush wasn’t as strong.

How does music compare to other pleasures?
Studies involving psychoactive drugs like cocaine registered relative dopamine spikes of 22 percent and higher, Salimpoor says, and pleasurable foods can send dopamine levels up 6 percent.

What does this study say about music, and us?
“Art in general has survived since the dawn of human existence and is found in all human societies,” says Zatorre. “There must be some strong value associated with it.” The study does show that music is important to humans, but not why, says Vicky Williamson at University of London. It’s a starting-off point to explore “why music can be effectively used in rituals, marketing, or film to manipulate hedonistic states,” says Salimpoor. We now know that dopamine can make you “like a crackhead for those sweet, sweet tunes you like,” says Jeff Neumann in Gawker. Isn’t that enough?