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Guru Purnima - What really is a Guru?

Author: Dr. Ali Khwaja

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/what-really-is-a-guru-by-counsellor-author-life-coach-dr-ali-khwaja

Guru Purnima - What really is a Guru?

Guru Purnima came and went last month. Even the full moon was a little dull due to cloudy weather. I received many messages of gratitude and appreciation that warmed my heart – though personally I don’t believe that I have really been a Guru as such.

Which made me think – what really is a Guru? Is it just the teachers who taught us through text books, is it the religious wise men who give sermons, is it the person who coaches you when you have exams and sees that you pass? Surprisingly my best and most effective gurus have been none of these – they have been people who encouraged me to think for myself, motivated me to progress without them being my crutches, cheered me on when I was doing something nice, and stood by me when I faltered.

Happy Guru Purnima

Some of my gurus have also been my worst critics who made all efforts to pull me down, and in the process lit a spark of determination in me that I should prove them wrong!

Many a time we do not realize how much we are learning from different people, leave alone acknowledging and appreciating them for what they have given us! Shall we start doing it now at least?

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When I write, I do so for myself

Author: Dr. Ali Khwaja

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/when-i-write-i-do-so-for-myself-by-counsellor-author-life-coach-dr-ali-khwaja

When I write, I do so for myself

Sometimes people appreciate what I write, at times they say they do not understand, and some just ignore because they are too busy to read trivia. Of course in this age of Instagram and Twitter, perhaps reading a few paragraphs, and that too on paper and not on the mobile, must be quite a task to many people. But that does not discourage me, because I write for myself…..

I have always held the view that it is better to love than to be loved. Not many agree with me, at least not in practice. But I believe that when I love I am in control of myself, I am choosing to do what makes me happy. I am not dependent on anyone, not even on the person I love. Hence life is so much smoother and fulfilling.

Similarly, when I write I am bringing out my thoughts. Why should it be important to me whether others choose to read, agree, criticize, condemn, or as in most cases ……ignore? If you are reading this, don’t evaluate my expression. Use it to create thoughts and ideas of your own – and share it with others. You may have much more and better things to say than me, and there may be people who appreciate your inputs.

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If you …..

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/if-you-

If you are aware of your feelings and acknowledge it
If you accept yourself and love yourself
If you are a witness to your own truth and share it.
If you help another discover himself
If you relieve suffering and exude peace and happiness
If you share your unique points of view
If you give people diversion from their toil so that they are refreshed in their efforts
If you survive to tell someone else's story and your story

If you simply share …. A life that is shared is enriched


 

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Expectations are not a straight line….

Author: Kumaraswamy S K

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/expectations-are-not-a-straight-line-by-author-kumaraswamy-s-k

'Expectations' is a very inevitable part of our life, each day starts with some or other expectation. We have various relationships and we have expectations from every relationship!

Father, mother, brother, sister, friends, husband, wife, uncle, and aunty, so on & on…. Some expect as responsibility, love, duty, “because I did this to you why not do for me”…. etc.

There has been a longlasting high degree of expectation from this relation of parents & children. All of us agree the degree of sacrice each parent takes up in g i v i n g b i r t h t o t h e children and to educate t h em t o b e a b l e & capable persons to lead a comfortable life, is phenomenal. Yes, Mother Nature has put this in our life... a circle which is never incomplete… today's parents are tomorrow's grandparents & today's children are tomorrow's parents. In this relationship knowing that I will be a father tomorrow, the children still do not fulll their responsibilities to the parents. These parents in turn crib that their child is not taking care of them, all this again there is something called EXPECTATIONS.

There are arguments that only when you expect, you get disappointed, so better not to expect anything from any one. Sounds good & right… isn't it… But can we really keep quiet without any expectations from our near and dear?

Maybe we can rationalize our expectations, balancing the priorities between parents (Duties as son) wife (forthcoming life with wife & child) one cannot be only towards one side. As parents we need to be proactive to be selfsuf cient nancially, not emptying our earnings, keep it for our last days.

You can be done with any relationship if you do not want but the marriage relationship is different. Expectations are very high in this relationship since there is only one individual in the relationship to fulll the expectations. This is one to one relationship, unlike siblings, friends etc.

Married relationship has that kind of ownership expectations. He or she belongs to me. Sometimes it's too suffocating, because anything more is poison. All need to have their own space, and expectations often turn out to be the demands. Most common expectations are: He or she does not spend enough time with me, does not love the same as earlier, has lost interest, does not care for me etc.

Many times we live in our expectations framed by our own expectations, like I expect my husband to be like this, or wife to be like this, but the fact is whether he or she is wired for it. M a n y t i m e s o u r expectations are borrowed, looking at the others we frame our expectations. A couple behaves closely in a public place, seen by other couple, the expectations relate & start expectations why can't we be so… examples can be in hundreds.

God knows when we will be free from our unreasonable EXPECTATIONS.


 

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Can Humans Survive Without Nature?

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/can-humans-survive-without-nature

When will we move from HDI to UDI, that is, from Human development Index to Universal Development Index ? It is because rather than nurturing the nature we have started abusing the nature. Rather than treating the nature as Source we have started using her as Resource. Trees are being cut brutally . Animals are being killed inhumanly. Even we are becoming Smarts- smart cities and smart villages . There is a need to redene smart in India.

Every entity has its own place in the universe . Every element of this universe needs to be duly respected. Where have gone the sparrows , butteries and glowworms? What is the rate of plantation of MicroWave towers? Is digital India the resolve to all the problems of India? Which are the considerations for new system designs and conversion? A sparrow is as signicant as a human baby. A tree is as important as a human being. A glow worm is as important as a saint. Tiger, deer and elephants are as important as human creature.

We have stopped realizing that the survival of human beings is directly proportional to the survival of the nature. We are depriving our children of their childhood. The beauties of the childhood are lost in the school curriculum framework. The children are deprived of the games, sports and nature. There is rarely drinking water in the schools. Children carry their own bottles. We the human beings have made our own lives miserable. Most of the problems are deliberately invented by the so called civilized, modern human beings.

What is the resolve? Let us not be over smart. There is a need to develop Universe Development Index considering the life expectancy of every organism, healthy culture of every organism and investment and income on every entity.


 

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Positive to the End

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/positive-to-the-end

Positive reinforcement is always fantastic to hear and I have been blessed to have received an immense amount. It helps us warriors get through tough days and sometimes the words spoken can be exactly what we need to hear.

However, from your perspective, it can't be easy to respond to the news of a loved one b ein g d iagn osed with can cer. On e' s instinctive reaction is to let their own fears takeover, but most often that isn't what a new warrior needs to see or feel.

How one responds to news and acts spontaneously is of utmost importance. So as a resident of the cancer universe, I thought I could assist you in dealing with your own emotions or certain situations better while you support your warrior.

Of course this is only my perspective and each warrior responds differently, but I hope it benets you nevertheless.

Chronic Disease, not Terminal:

Cancer is no longer considered a terminal disease. Warriors live with cancer and they can function ne. There are numerable other diseases that are incurable but cancer fortunately has many treatments available. So yes, it is a tough journey but it doesn't always have a negative conclusion.

I don't know when my cancer will go into remission. It probably will or won't, but that's not going to stop me from planning the next fty years of my life. Hence if you hear of somebody's diagnosis, don't let fear of death cloud your emotions.

Gauge your emotions:

The reason I can battle cancer with strength is because nobody cries or acts weak in front of me. My support group is very matter of fact about my illness and we have normal conversations.

Therefore gauge your emotions and behavior around those in treatment. Also, this needs to be done each time you are around a warrior. Our own mood can be very erratic hence your emotions shouldn't burden further.

Some days I am happy to cry about my cancer with a friend but other times I have cut off from well wishers, because their perturbation was too overwhelming for me.

Take permission before sharing information:

When we know a cancer warrior and receive information about the d i s e a s e , t h e impulsive reaction is to share it with them. And you should!

It helps us gather points on how to care for ourselves while taking away the responsibility of nding the information single handed. However, it's polite to seek permission before you share.

Respect the morbidity:

Despite everything I say in my blogs, the rst reaction when I was diagnosed was 'tik tok there goes my clock'… and morbid thoughts come from time to time.

It can be difcult to hear a warrior talk about their death but be strong and listen to us. You don't have to say anything. One hug at the end of the conversation is all that is expected of you.

Motivate on Vertical Days

I learnt this interesting concept from a fellow warrior when I entered the cancer universe. She said 'Sonia, I have two type of days, vertical and horizontal. The days I am ne I am vertical- up and running and the days I am not, I'm horizontal- sleeping on my bed'. It's been the easiest way to explain to family how I am feeling each day.

Bald is beautiful but don't lie:

Cancer alters a warrior's looks. Yes, we brave the changes happening to our skin and the loss of hair. It is also very nice of you to say that we carry off the look well or still look good. But it ok to agree with us and say “we miss how you looked too”.

Develop an appetite for intensity:

Till I am positive, cheerful and hunky dory, I have a lot of people around me. The day I am feeling morbid or grumpy, not so many. Of course nobody wants to be around an unpleasant person but hey, I have cancer! I'm allowed this much. So be strong and hear us on our tough days. That is when we need you. Strength is contagious: When you interact with a warrior, do it with all your love and positivity. Be a catalyst of strength.

Sonia Boury student of DCS 2010 and daughter of Neelam Boury student of DCS 2012, passed away in April after a valiant three year battle with cancer.


 

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Whither Education?

Author: Dr. Ali Khwaja

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/improvement-of-our-education-system-by-counsellor-author-life-coach-dr-ali-khwaja

Whither Education?

We talk so much about improvement of our education system, but nothing much seems to be happening. The reason becomes clear if you read these extracts from an article written by an eminent professor in a reputed University journal, and form your own opinion:

Quote: “Education is a process in which students acquire knowledge. How one perceives the knowledge and what is the process of coming to know are the pertinent questions here. The traditional method in which the learners receive the information passively is becoming outdated. Present practices are based on the beliefs that learners actively construct knowledge in their attempts to make sense of the world. Therefore learning should be emphasizing the development of meaning and understanding. Students should be able to acquire experiences and learn by themselves in various situations that they encounter over the course of their worldly lives.

Obviously, the traditional method fails to bring about desired outcomes Therefore there is a new trend i.e. constructive approach to bring out the desired outcomes in teaching learning process.”

The article further goes on….

“Constructivist teacher education generally reects 2 major traditions, the developmental and social reconstructions is traditions. Programs inuenced by the developmental tradition attempt to teach students how to teach in a constructive manner.” Unquote. Someone please explain what the enlightened soul is trying to tell us.

Some of our wisest and most eminent statesmen had predicted what may happen:

C Rajagopalachari, who later became the rst Indian Governor General of India, told in the 1930's about what will happen if India becomes a democracy: “Election replete with corruption, injustice and the tyranny of p o w e r , w e a lth and ine f  c i enc y o f administration will make a hell of life as soon as the freedom is given. Men will regretfully look back to the old regime of comparative justice, e f  c i e n c y , a n d h o n e s t administration. The only thing to be gained will be that we will be saved from the subordination and subjugation of foreign rule.” Unfortunately this has ltered into our education system. But ….. let us not give up hope. The more I interact with young people, the more optimistic I become that they will create a much better country and community than we have done.

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Before you can be with others, first learn to be alone

Author: Jennifer Stitt

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/before-you-can-be-with-others-first-learn-to-be-alone

Before you can be with others, first learn to be alone

In 1840, Edgar Allan Poe described the ‘mad energy’ of an ageing man who roved the streets of London from dusk till dawn. His excruciating despair could be temporarily relieved only by immersing himself in a tumultuous throng of city-dwellers. ‘He refuses to be alone,’ Poe wrote. He ‘is the type and the genius of deep crime … He is the man of the crowd.’

Like many poets and philosophers through the ages, Poe stressed the significance of solitude. It was ‘such a great misfortune’, he thought, to lose the capacity to be alone with oneself, to get caught up in the crowd, to surrender one’s singularity to mind-numbing conformity. Two decades later, the idea of solitude captured Ralph Waldo Emerson’s imagination in a slightly different way: quoting Pythagoras, he wrote: ‘In the morning, – solitude; … that nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company.’ Emerson encouraged the wisest teachers to press upon their pupils the importance of ‘periods and habits of solitude’, habits that made ‘serious and abstracted thought’ possible.

In the 20th century, the idea of solitude formed the centre of Hannah Arendt’s thought. A German-Jewish émigré who fled Nazism and found refuge in the United States, Arendt spent much of her life studying the relationship between the individual and the polis. For her, freedom was tethered to both the private sphere – the vita contemplativa – and the public, political sphere – the vita activa. She understood that freedom entailed more than the human capacity to act spontaneously and creatively in public. It also entailed the capacity to think and to judge in private, where solitude empowers the individual to contemplate her actions and develop her conscience, to escape the cacophony of the crowd – to finally hear herself think.

In 1961, The New Yorker commissioned Arendt to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi SS officer who helped to orchestrate the Holocaust. How could anyone, she wanted to know, perpetrate such evil? Surely only a wicked sociopath could participate in the Shoah. But Arendt was surprised by Eichmann’s lack of imagination, his consummate conventionality. She argued that while Eichmann’s actions were evil, Eichmann himself – the person – ‘was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions.’ She attributed his immorality – his capacity, even his eagerness, to commit crimes – to his ‘thoughtlessness’. It was his inability to stop and think that permitted Eichmann to participate in mass murder.

Just as Poe suspected that something sinister lurked deep within the man of the crowd, Arendt recognised that: ‘A person who does not know that silent intercourse (in which we examine what we say and what we do) will not mind contradicting himself, and this means he will never be either able or willing to account for what he says or does; nor will he mind committing any crime, since he can count on its being forgotten the next moment.’ Eichmann had shunned Socratic self-reflection. He had failed to return home to himself, to a state of solitude. He had discarded the vita contemplativa, and thus he had failed to embark upon the essential question-and-answering process that would have allowed him to examine the meaning of things, to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, good and evil.

‘It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong,’ Arendt wrote, ‘because you can remain the friend of the sufferer; who would want to be the friend of and have to live together with a murderer? Not even another murderer.’ It is not that unthinking men are monsters, that the sad sleepwalkers of the world would sooner commit murder than face themselves in solitude. What Eichmann showed Arendt was that society could function freely and democratically only if it were made up of individuals engaged in the thinking activity – an activity that required solitude. Arendt believed that ‘living together with others begins with living together with oneself’.

But what if, we might ask, we become lonely in our solitude? Isn’t there some danger that we will become isolated individuals, cut off from the pleasures of friendship? Philosophers have long made a careful, and important, distinction between solitude and loneliness. In The Republic (c380 BCE), Plato proffered a parable in which Socrates celebrates the solitary philosopher. In the allegory of the cave, the philosopher escapes from the darkness of an underground den – and from the company of other humans – into the sunlight of contemplative thought. Alone but not lonely, the philosopher becomes attuned to her inner self and the world. In solitude, the soundless dialogue ‘which the soul holds with herself’ finally becomes audible.

Echoing Plato, Arendt observed: ‘Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about … when I am one and without company’ but desire it and cannot find it. In solitude, Arendt never longed for companionship or craved camaraderie because she was never truly alone. Her inner self was a friend with whom she could carry on a conversation, that silent voice who posed the vital Socratic question: ‘What do you mean when you say …?’ The self, Arendt declared, ‘is the only one from whom you can never get away – except by ceasing to think.’

Arendt’s warning is well worth remembering in our own time. In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship.

But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

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The brain and the gut talk to each other: how fixing one could help the other

File 20170705 15991 khi2jp People with chronic bowel conditions may need to use the toilet 20 to 30 times a day. daveynin/Flickr, CC BY Antonina Mikocka-Walus, Deakin University

It’s widely recognised that emotions can directly affect stomach function. As early as 1915, influential physiologist Walter Cannon noted that stomach functions are changed in animals when frightened. The same is true for humans. Those who stress a lot often report diarrhoea or stomach pain.

We now know this is because the brain communicates with the gastrointestinal system. A whole ecosystem comprising 100 trillion bacteria living in our bowels is an active participant in this brain-gut chat.

Recent discoveries around this relationship have made us consider using talk therapy and antidepressants as possible treatments for symptoms of chronic gut problems. The aim is to interfere with the conversation between the two organs by telling the brain to repair the faulty bowel.

Our research found talk therapy can improve depression and the quality of life of patients with gastrointestinal conditions. Antidepressants may also have a beneficial effect on both the course of a bowel disease and accompanying anxiety and depression.

What are gastrointestinal conditions?

Gastrointestinal conditions are incredibly common. About 20% of adults and adolescents suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder where abdominal discomfort or pain go hand-in-hand with changes in bowel habits. These could involve chronic diarrhoea and constipation, or a mixture of the two.

IBS is a so-called functional disorder, because while its symptoms are debilitating, there are no visible pathological changes in the bowel. So it is diagnosed based on symptoms rather than specific diagnostic tests or procedures.

People with chronic gut conditions can experience severe pain that affects their quality of life. from shutterstock.com

This is contrary to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition where the immune system reacts in an exaggerated manner to normal gut bacteria. Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with bleeding, diarrhoea, weight loss and anaemia (iron deficiency) and can be a cause of death. It’s called an organic bowel disease because we can see clear pathological changes caused by inflammation to the bowel lining.

Subtypes of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Around five million people worldwide, and more than 75,000 in Australia, live with the condition.

People with bowel conditions may need to use the toilet 20 to 30 times a day. They also suffer pain that can affect their family and social lives, education, careers and ability to travel. Many experience anxiety and depression in response to the way the illness changes their life. But studies also suggest those with anxiety and depression are more likely to develop bowel disorders. This is important evidence of brain-gut interactions.

How the brain speaks with the gut

The brain and gut speak to each other constantly through a network of neural, hormonal and immunological messages. But this healthy communication can be disturbed when we stress or develop chronic inflammation in our guts.

Stress can influence the type of bacteria inhabiting the gut, making our bowel flora less diverse and possibly more attractive to harmful bacteria. It can also increase inflammation in the bowel, and vulnerability to infection.

Ever ‘gone with your gut’ when making a decision? You’re probably receiving signals from your gastrointestinal tract, which communicates directly with your brain. from shutterstock.com

Chronic intestinal inflammation may lower our sensitivity to positive emotions. When we become sick with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, our brains become rewired through a process called neuroplasticity, which changes the connections between the nerve signals.

Anxiety and depression are common in people suffering chronic bowel problems. Approximately 20% of those living with inflammatory bowel disease report feeling anxious or blue for extended periods of time. When their disease flares, this rate may exceed 60%.

Interestingly, in a recent large study where we observed 2,007 people living with inflammatory bowel disease over nine years, we found a strong association between symptoms of depression or anxiety and disease activity over time. So, anxiety and depression are likely to make the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease worse long-term.

It makes sense then to offer psychological treatment to those with chronic gut problems. But would such a treatment also benefit their gut health?


Gut feeling: how your microbiota affects your mood, sleep and stress levels


Inflammatory bowel disease

Our recent study combined data from 14 trials and 1,196 participants to examine the effects of talk therapy for inflammatory bowel disease. We showed that talk therapy - particularly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is focused on teaching people to identify and modify unhelpful thinking styles and problematic behaviours - might have short-term beneficial effects on depression and quality of life in people with inflammatory bowel disease.

But we did not observe any improvements in the bowel disease activity. This could be for several reasons. Inflammatory bowel disease is hard to treat even with strong anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids, so talk therapy may not be strong enough.

Talk therapy may only help when it’s offered to people experiencing a flare up in their disease. The majority of the included studies in our review were of people in remission, so we don’t know if talk therapy could help those who flare.

On the other hand, in our latest review of 15 studies, we showed antidepressants had a positive impact on inflammatory bowel disease as well as anxiety and depression. It’s important to note the studies in this review were few and largely observational, which means they showed associations between symptoms and antidepressant use rather than proving antidepressants caused a decrease in symptoms.

Studies show talk therapy improves the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. from shutterstock.com

Irritable bowel syndrome

When it comes to irritable bowel syndrome, the studies are more conclusive. According to a meta-analysis combining 32 trials, both talk therapy and antidepressants improve bowel symptoms in the disorder. A recent update to this meta-analysis, including 48 trials, further confirmed this result.

The studies showed symptoms such as diarrhoea and constipation improved in 56% of those who took antidepressants, compared to 35% in the group who received a placebo. Abdominal pain significantly improved in around 52% of those who took antidepressants, compared to 27% of those in the placebo group.

Symptoms also improved in around 48% of patients receiving psychological therapies, compared with nearly 24% in the control group, who received another intervention such as usual management. IBS symptoms improved in 59% of people who had cognitive behavioural therapy, compared to 36% in the control group.

Stress management and relaxation were found to be ineffective. Interestingly, hypnotherapy was also found effective for bowel symptoms in 45%, compared to 23% of control therapy participants.

What now?

Better studies exploring the role of talk therapy and antidepressants for symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease need to be conducted. We should know in a few years which patients are likely to benefit.

The ConversationIn the meantime, there is enough evidence for doctors to consider referring patients with irritable bowel syndrome for talk therapy and antidepressants.

Antonina Mikocka-Walus, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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How a mother’s voice shapes her baby’s developing brain

Author: Kate Fehlhaber

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/how-a-mothers-voice-shapes-her-babys-developing-brain

How a mother’s voice shapes her baby’s developing brain

It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother’s voice to those of strangers. Beginning in the womb, a foetus’s developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother. Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother’s voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices. A 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother’s voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay. A mother’s voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone. Scientists have even traced the power of a mother’s voice to infants’ brains: a mother’s voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialised task of speech processing.

While it makes intuitive sense that a mother’s voice has special power over infants and toddlers, what happens as children grow up? Daniel Abrams, a neurobiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, and his team of researchers set out to answer this question using functional MRI (fMRI), a neuroimaging technique that measures brain activity by detecting metabolic changes in blood flow. The researchers examined 24 children between the ages of seven and 12, who had normal IQs, had no development disorders, and were raised by their biological mothers. While in the MRI machine, these children listened to recordings of nonsense words spoken by their mothers or by other women. The researchers specifically chose nonsense words so as not to trigger brain circuits related to semantics. Regardless, the children were able to accurately identify their mother’s voice more than 97 per cent of the time in less than one second.

But what actually happened when these older children heard their mother’s voice? The team hypothesised that listening to her voice would produce more activity in the so-called ‘voice-selective’ brain regions, involved in recognising voice and processing speech, compared with when they heard unfamiliar female voices. But what the scientists found was even more remarkable. A mother’s voice activated a wide range of brain structures including the amygdala, which regulates emotion, the nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex, which are part of a major reward circuit, and the fusiform face area, which processes visual face information. This pattern of brain activity can be likened to a neural fingerprint, where a mother’s voice triggers specific activity in her child’s brain.

The investigation didn’t stop there. The team found that the more neural connection between these ‘voice-selective’ brain regions and those related to mood, reward and face processing, the more social communication abilities a child had. In other words, the neural fingerprint of a mother’s voice within a child’s brain can predict that child’s ability to communicate in the social realm.

If that neural fingerprint is thought of as a biomarker in a child’s brain, then how different does it look in children with disorders in social function, such as autism? And how does the neural fingerprint change in adolescence and into adulthood?

The answers to these questions remain unknown, but it is now scientifically proven that most of us carry a mother’s voice in the neural patterns of our brain: bedtime stories, dinnertime conversation and the chatter we heard before birth identify us, uniquely, as surely as the fingerprint, enabling emotional development and social communication in childhood and, probably, through life.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

 

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Why every child in need
deserves an urgent response

Author: S Matthew Liao

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/why-every-child-in-need-deserves-an-urgent-response

Why every child in need deserves an urgent response

‘What would you do if you saw a six-year-old alone in a public place?’ So begins a short video from UNICEF, which has received more than 2 million views on YouTube. In the video, Anano, a six-year-old child actor, is dressed in different ways and placed in different scenarios. When Anano is well-dressed, we see people actively trying to help her. But when Anano’s appearance is altered to make her look homeless, we see people shunning her and sometimes even telling her to go away.

Why do people treat Anano so differently depending on how she is dressed?

One, not very flattering, explanation is that people have ingrained biases and prefer to help the privileged rather than the disadvantaged. After all, the dishevelled Anano resembles a child from a culture of travellers, which could have triggered many prejudices. Still, we can imagine a different child from a different cultural background placed in similar circumstances. It would not be surprising to find that people’s reactions remain similar. Indeed, the people in the video appear to be no different from you and me. Would we have reacted in similar ways if we had been in a similar situation?

I would like to propose a different way of looking at Anano’s case, one that highlights a basic problem in how we respond to other people. There is an important distinction between urgency and need. A situation is urgent if it requires immediate attention and action. For instance, a person drowning is an urgent situation, since that person will die if no one comes to his or her aid. A need, in particular a fundamental need, is something that is essential or very important for someone to, for example, pursue a good life. Receiving basic education would qualify as a fundamental need for a child, since without basic education it would be nearly impossible for a child to acquire the knowledge necessary to be an adequately functioning individual in society.

What Anano’s video might reveal is that, when people see the well-dressed child alone in a public place, they are treating the situation as urgent. Indeed, it is unusual: maybe the girl is lost. And she might face even greater danger if she were to meet the wrong kind of people. Given the perception that this could be an urgent situation, people are motivated to help.

In contrast, when people see a homeless-looking Anano, they don’t appear to regard it as an urgent situation. Sadly, the sight of homeless children is all too common. It is not difficult to imagine people thinking that this girl has probably been on the street for some time. Maybe her parents have even sent her out to solicit money. Given this perception, while people might be uncertain about who bears the responsibility for meeting the needs of a homeless child (is it the parents? the government?), one can see how they might think that they don’t have a responsibility to help her.

This distinction between urgency and need provides us with a different and plausible explanation for the behaviour of the people in the video, but it doesn’t justify it. The mistake that the bystanders make, and that you and I are just as likely to make, lies in thinking that they don’t have responsibility towards the kind of homeless children portrayed by Anano, just because the situation is not urgent. In fact, all of us have the responsibility to see to it that every human being’s fundamental needs are met.

Of course, some people believe that, as long as we don’t harm others, we’re not obliged to help anyone beyond immediate family and friends. But if this view were true, we wouldn’t be obliged to help strangers even in an urgent situation. Suppose you are a hermit, miles away from civilisation, and you find a newborn on your doorstep. The baby will die of starvation unless she is given some food, and you are the only person who can help her. But, on the view discussed, you wouldn’t have any obligation to help the baby, and you’d be permitted to let her die, since she is not your baby and you didn’t cause her to be in this predicament. Such a view seems callous and misguided.

Other people might think that we are obliged to only help people in urgent situations. But consider this case. Suppose an 80-year-old man would die in two days unless he is helped, while a 20-year-old woman would die in a year unless she is helped. When resources are not limited, we should of course try to help both of them. But suppose that resources are limited and we can save only one or the other. In such a case, even though the man’s situation is more urgent, it seems that we should help the woman. Among other things, the woman would stand to benefit much more if she were helped. The fact that we sometimes have greater responsibility towards people in need than towards people in urgent situations suggests that it is not true that we should help only people in urgent situations.

UNICEF estimates that, if we do not act, by 2030, more than 165 million children worldwide will live in extreme poverty, or on less than $1.90 a day; almost 70 million children under the age of five will die of largely preventable causes; more than 60 million children aged six to 11 will be out of school; and 750 million women will have been married as children. That is a huge number of people in need, even though their need might not be perceived as urgent.

We should try to change our attitude towards the homeless Ananos of this world, and be much more sympathetic and willing to help them. Anano’s video teaches us that, while we might well be primed to respond appropriately to urgent situations, we could and should do a much better job of responding to other people’s needs.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

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Five-month-old babies know what’s funny

Author: Gina Mireault

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/five-month-old-babies-know-whats-funny

Five-month-old babies know what’s funny

Before they speak or crawl or walk or achieve many of the other amazing developmental milestones in the first year of life, babies laugh. This simple act makes its debut around the fourth month of life, ushering in a host of social and cognitive opportunities for the infant. Yet despite the universality of this humble response and its remarkable early appearance, infant laughter has not been taken seriously. At least, not until recently. In the past decade, researchers have started to examine what infant laughter can reveal about the youngest minds, whether infants truly understand funniness, and if so, how.

Prompted by observations of infant laughter made by none other than Charles Darwin himself, modern psychologists have begun to ask whether infant laughter has a purpose or can reveal something about infants’ understanding of the world. Darwin speculated that laughter, like other universal emotional expressions, serves an important communicative function, which explains why nature preserved and prioritised it. Two key pieces of evidence support Darwin’s hunch. First, according to the psychologist Jaak Panksepp of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, laughter is not uniquely human. Its acoustic, rhythmic, and facial precursors appear in other mammals, particularly in juveniles while they are at play, pointing to the role of evolution in human laughter.

Second, the pleasure of laughter is neurologically based. It activates the dopamine (‘reward’) centre of the brain. Laughing – in many ways – has the same effect on social partners as playing. While the pleasure of playing is a way for juveniles to bond with each other, the pleasure of laughing is a way for adults to do so, as across mammalian species, adults rarely ‘play’. Shared laughter is as effective as playing in finding others to be a source of joy and satisfaction. Thus laughter biologically reinforces sociability, ensuring the togetherness needed for survival.

However, laughter is not only key to survival. It also is key to understanding others, including what it reveals about infants. For example, infants can employ fake laughter (and fake crying!) beginning at about six months of age, and do so when being excluded or ignored, or when trying to engage a social partner. These little fake-outs show that infants are capable of simple acts of deception much earlier than scholars previously thought, but which parents knew revealed infants’ cleverness. Similarly, the psychologist Vasu Reddy of the University of Portsmouth has found that, by eight months, infants can use a specific type of humour: teasing. For example, the baby might willingly hand over the car keys she’s been allowed to play with, but whip her hand back quickly, just before allowing her dad to take possession, all the while looking at him with a cheeky grin. Reddy calls this type of teasing ‘provocative non-compliance’. She has found that eight- to 12-month-olds use other types of teasing as well, including provocative disruption, as in toppling over a tower someone else has carefully built.

Teasing is the infant’s attempt to playfully provoke another person into interacting. It shows that infants understand something about others’ minds and intentions. In this example, the infant understands that she can make her father think that she will relinquish the car keys. The ability to trick others in this way suggests that infants are maturing toward a Theory of Mind, the understanding that others have minds that are separate from one’s own and that can be fooled. Psychologists have generally thought children don’t reach this milestone until about four and a half years of age. Infants’ ability to humorously tease reveals they are progressing toward a Theory of Mind much earlier than previously thought.

Additional evidence for this early Theory of Mind comes from studies showing that infants are quite capable of intentionally making others laugh, also by about the age of eight months. Infants do so by making silly faces and sounds, by performing absurd acts such as exposing hidden body parts or waving their stinky feet in the air, and by initiating games such as peekaboo that have previously invoked laughter. Knowing what another will find funny implies that infants understand something about another person, and use that understanding to their joyful advantage. This attempt to make others laugh is not seen among children and adults with autism, one feature of which is an impaired understanding of others’ social and emotional behaviours. Individuals with autism do laugh, but tend to do so in isolation or in response to stimuli that don’t elicit laughter in people without autism. They might mimic laughter, but not share it. In a sense, their laughter is non-social.

Perhaps because infants are so young, we have been reluctant to credit them with understanding ‘funniness’. Their laughs are more often attributed to ‘gas’ (a myth long ago dispelled) or imitation, or having been reinforced for laughing in response to certain events – like Mom singing in an ‘opera voice’. As it turns out, getting the joke doesn’t require advanced cognitive skills. And much of what it does require is within the infant’s grasp.

Although infants do imitate smiling, starting in the first few months of life, and prefer to look at smiles compared with negative emotional expressions, and although they might be reinforced for laughing at particular events, these are not sufficient explanations for infant laughter and humour. If they were, then imitation and reinforcement would need to account for most infant laughter, and this is simply not the case in life or in the research lab. In addition, it would suggest that infants are not capable of understanding new humorous events unless someone were available to interpret for them and/or to reinforce their laughter. Instead, research has shown that, within the first six months of life, infants can interpret a new event as funny all by themselves.

So how do they do it? Like children and adults, infants appear to rely on two key features to detect funniness. First, humour nearly always requires a social component. Using naturalistic observations, the psychologists Robert Kraut and Robert Johnston at Cornell, and later the neuroscientist Robert Provine at the University of Maryland, discovered that smiling is more strongly associated with the presence of other people, and only erratically associated with feelings of happiness. That is, smiling is more likely to be socially rather than emotionally motivated. Thus, the presence of a social partner is one key component of finding something funny. Recall that the point of laughter is to be shared.

But humour has a cognitive element too: that of incongruity. Humorous events are absurd iterations of ordinary experiences that violate our expectations. When a banana is used as a phone, when a large burly man speaks in a Mini Mouse voice, when 20 clowns emerge from a tiny car, we are presented with something bizarre and irrational, and are left to make sense of it. Infants, too, engage in this process.

We showed six-month-olds ordinary events (a researcher pretending to drink from a red plastic cup) and absurd iterations of those events (the researcher pretending to wear the red cup as a hat). In one condition, we instructed parents to remain emotionally neutral during the absurd event. Not only did infants find the absurd version of the event funny, they found it funny even when their parents remained neutral. That is, infants did not rely on their parents’ interpretation of the event as ‘funny’ to find it humorous themselves. When repeated with five-month-olds, we got the same results. Even with only a month of laughter experience under their belts, five-monthers independently interpreted the funniness of an event.

However, detecting incongruity isn’t the end of the story. Magical events are similarly incongruous, but adults, children and even infants do not laugh at them. Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard and Renée Baillargeon of the University of Illinois have observed that when natural laws are violated – a ball disappears into thin air or an object passes through a solid barrier – infants behave exactly as adults and children do: they don’t laugh, they stare. Why? Humour researchers theorise that although magic and humour both involve incongruity, only humour involves its resolution. In jokes, the resolution comes in the form of a punchline. It’s the ‘Ah-ha!’ moment when one gets the joke. It’s not known if infants are able to resolve incongruity, but that they laugh at humour and stare at magic suggests that they can. Perhaps they can simply distinguish that humorous events are possible and magical events are not, and this is enough to make the former funny. It’s up to researchers to solve this next piece of the puzzle. Until then, infants will have the last laugh.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

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Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Author: Jihyun Lee

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/why-the-most-successful-students-have-no-passion-for-school

Why the most successful students have no passion for school

In order to be successful, many people believe, one must be passionate. Passion makes challenges enjoyable. It bestows the stamina necessary to excel. However, there are telling counterexamples where passion doesn’t seem to be a necessary ingredient for success. One such case is academic success. You might think that successful students should be passionate about their schooling, and that this passion for school would account, at least partly, for why some students succeed and why some don’t. But this isn’t right. My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.

My research findings derive from the analysis of a large-scale international database called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) makes the dataset available every three years. It’s a treasure trove that gives researches like myself an unparalleled view into what students across the world think about their education. In the most recent 2015 PISA assessment, 72 countries and economies contributed. Reading, mathematics and science tests, along with a questionnaire about attitudes, beliefs, learning habits and the like, are administered to nationally representative samples of 15-years-olds around the world. In previous surveys, four simple options were used to measure students’ attitude toward school:

(a) school has done little to prepare me for adult life when I leave school

(b) school has been a waste of time

(c) school helped give me confidence to make decisions

(d) school has taught me things that could be useful in a job

As it turned out, simple and direct correlations between students’ academic achievement and their attitudes toward school were near zero. This was far from an anomaly. The near-zero result was replicated in the PISA 2003, 2009, and 2012. There were no differences with respect to students’ socio-economic backgrounds. Gender did not affect the finding, and it holds for both developing and developed countries. Only about 2 per cent of the PISA mathematics performance was explained by students’ attitudes toward school in 62 countries. This means that in most countries, academically able students do not hold their schooling in high regard. Similarly, academically less able students do not necessarily have low opinions about their schooling. There’s simply no connection. This raises the intriguing question of motivation. If there is no real relationship between academic achievement and attitude, then what motivates bright students to achieve academic success? It certainly isn’t from an abundant passion for school.

The answer is that it comes from within. Other PISA-based research has suggested that what sets academically able and less able students apart is self-belief about their own strengths and weaknesses. Individual psychological variables such as self-efficacy, anxiety and enjoyment of learning in itself explain between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of the variation in students’ academic achievement. Collectively, research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.

This is a problem. Students’ attitude to school should matter for a number of reasons. If students find it difficult to see the direct benefits of their schooling, if they think that their school has failed to meet their expectations, and if they perceive that their academic skills are learned outside of school, it is possible that this will affect their views of formal institutions later in life. And indeed, many people have a pessimistic view of the role that formal institutions play – a view that very well could have stemmed from school experiences during formative years. Formal institutions shape the lives of a citizenry. They need to be upheld, bettered and strengthened – not discarded out of hand. So students should be taught to invest themselves in formal institutions, rather than to tear them down or fail to take part in them.

What can be done? Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. A stronger emphasis must also be given to the inclusion of hands-on group activities that emulate what they may do in life once they graduate. Whether students are able to see the link between their present and future may have critical consequences for society.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

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How we learn to read another’s mind
by looking into their eyes

Author: Tobias Grossmann

Perma-link for article: http://www.banjaraacademy.org/how-we-learn-to-read-anothers-mind-by-looking-into-their-eyes

How we learn to read another’s mind by looking into their eyes

Eyes play a prominent role in our daily social encounters and are sometimes metaphorically referred to as windows to our souls. There now is compelling evidence to support the notion that much information about another person’s mind can be gleaned from his or her eyes. In one proof of concept, the Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET), developed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his group at Cambridge University in the UK, has documented our ability to identify inner states from the eyes and the region surrounding the eyes. The extent of information that eyes communicate about other minds might be somewhat limited, yet evidence argues against the longheld view of philosophers in the skeptical tradition that the contents of other minds cannot be directly observed. Instead, human eyes form a bridge between self and other by providing direct access to another person’s inner state.

The phenomenon is unique to humans alone. Indeed, after comparison with nearly half of all primate species, the human eye has been shown to be morphologically and responsively unique. Humans not only show the greatest horizontal elongation of the eye outline and the largest amount of exposed tissue (called sclera) around the eyeball, but are also the only species with sclera that is white. When compared with our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees, we humans focus more steadily on the eye region when scanning faces. By 14 months of age, the human gaze follows eyes almost exclusively whereas other great apes rely more on head direction.

The sensitivity to eyes emerges early in human development. From birth, newborn infants show a preference for faces, despite their poor visual acuity. Human infants prefer to look at faces that have eyes open versus eyes closed. Newborns exhibit a preference for faces only with naturally appearing eyes, including black iris and white sclera, versus control faces with white iris and black sclera. And infants appear to glean emotional information about other minds by gazing at eyes, literally recruiting brain regions that, in adults, are involved in understanding another person’s mental state. Strikingly, by seven months of age, infants detect emotional cues and distinguish between direct and averted gaze solely on the basis of the eye whites.

The attachment neurohormone oxytocin modulates our response to eye cues. When the hormone is administered through nasal passages during studies, subjects viewing faces show increased fixation on eyes. Oxytocin also significantly enhances the recognition of emotional and mental states from eye cues.

Reduced sensitivity to eyes and eye cues has been described as one of the earliest identifiable warning signs in the development of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies show that, along the autism spectrum, orientation to eyes is initially present in young infants but later declines between two and six months of age. Characteristic differences in the brain responses to eye-gaze cues recorded at age six to 10 months predicted autism diagnosed at 36 months. Furthermore, older children with autism display enhanced brain responses to eye cues after intranasal oxytocin administration. The connection between oxytocin and mind-reading is nuanced indeed: research shows that genetic variations affecting oxytocin release and breastfeeding experience impact infants’ emotional response to eyes as early as seven months of age.

All in all, the ability to read other minds develops early in human infancy, and is deeply influenced by cues from the eyes. The phenomenon requires no explicit, conceptual grasp of other minds, but rather relies on direct experience of others’ emotional and mental states.

Of course, humans read others through a variety of modes – the sense of touch, for instance, or vocal cues. But eye cues have always been invaluable during close-range interactions lacking physical contact. Early in our evolution, eye cues were vital for cooperative hunting and foraging, truly essential for groups hoping to avoid predators and catch prey. Today such cues help us negotiate the world writ large, whether passing through crowds or functioning on the job. Communicating through eyes is an aid to cooperation, helping us identify and coordinate with the best partners by gaining access to their minds. Eyes as windows into other minds can be considered a hallmark feature of human social functioning with deep biological roots.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


 

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