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Talking about pain, disrupting morality, why creativity fades

Talking about pain

"Far from being soothing," Richard Alleyne reports in The Daily Telegraph, "words and counselling can actually increase the intensity of physical pain, a study finds. Warnings such as 'this may hurt a bit' or 'you might feel a little pain,' can be counterproductive and actually compound feelings of discomfort, it is believed. The study discovered that certain pain-associated words such as 'tormenting' or 'gruelling' stimulate the pain area of the brain - even when no pain is actually administered. Talking to your doctor about your pain might therefore be self-defeating, claim the researchers at Jena University in Germany, as it stimulates a part of the brain known as the 'pain matrix.' "

Disrupting morality

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"A provocative new study shows how disruption of a specific brain region can influence people's moral judgments," Psych Central News reports. "MIT neuroscientists believe the discovery will help scientists learn how the brain constructs morality and perhaps learn how morality can be modified with appropriate stimulation. … Previous studies have shown that a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) is highly active when we think about other people's intentions, thoughts and beliefs. In the new study, the researchers disrupted activity in the right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp. They found that the subjects' ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of people's intentions - for example, a failed murder attempt - was impaired."

Why creativity fades

"[What]accounts for the infamous fourth-grade slump in creativity?" blogs Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide. "One possibility is that we trade away the ingenuity of our youth for executive function. As the brain develops, the prefrontal cortex expands in density and volume. As a result, we're able to exhibit impulse control and focused attention. The unfortunate side-effect of this cortical growth is an increased ability to repress errant thoughts. While many of these thoughts deserve to be suppressed, it turns out that we also censor the imagination. We're so scared of saying the wrong thing that we end up saying nothing at all. One interesting line of evidence in support of this speculative theory is that jazz musicians engaged in improvisation selectively 'de-activate' their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In other words, they inhibit their inhibitory brain areas, which allows them to create without worrying about what they're creating."

The brain predicts

"It's like remembering the future," says the New Scientist. "Our brain generates predictions of likely visual inputs so it can focus on dealing with the unexpected. Predictable sights generate less brain activity than unfamiliar stimuli, bolstering the view that the brain is not merely reactive, but generates predictions based on the recent past. 'The brain expects to see things and really just wants to confirm it now and again,' says Lars Muckli at the University of Glasgow in Scotland."

Cheap flights, cancer

The advent of cheap package holidays in the 1970s has led to a "generational shift" in the rates of deadly skin cancer, Cancer UK has warned. "People now in their 60s and 70s are more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma than their parents were, figures show," says BBC News. "…This generation - who would have been in their 20s and 30s when cheap package holidays exploded in popularity - now have 36 cases of malignant melanoma per 100,000, compared with seven per 100,000 in the mid-1970s."

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My twin's a week older

An Ohio couple can look forward to an annual birthday season, because their new twins were born a week apart, says Associated Press. Jennifer Renz went into labour while at her doctor's office on March 22. She wasn't due for another 12 weeks but gave birth in a Cleveland hospital to a girl, named Grace. Doctors said at that point things kind of stopped, with the other baby, a boy, still inside the womb. They decided not to induce labour but allow the second child more time to grow inside his mother. Noah didn't arrive for another seven days. Both infants are now in a neonatal intensive-care unit. Their parents plan to celebrate the birthdays separately.

It's tattoo time again

In 1999, San Francisco Mexican restaurant Casa Sanchez launched an outlandish promotion: get a tattoo of its logo and receive free lunches for life," writes Stu Woo of The Wall Street Journal. "The promotion whipped up a swirl of media coverage. Some outlets called the offer an ingenious marketing idea. Others focused on the Mission District restaurant's estimate that it stood to lose $5.8-million (U.S.) if the deal's takers - capped at 50 people - ate there daily for 50 years. A decade and thousands of free meals later, Casa Sanchez is still standing.… Perhaps a dozen of the original customers were still coming in. Hoping to give a boost to the community and attract new business to the restaurant, Casa Sanchez revived the tattoo promotion in January. 'It's called the 'stimulus special,' says Martha Sanchez, one of the dozens of family members who run the business."

Thought du jour

"If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn."

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- Andrew Mason

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