Electrical brain stimulation for soldiers: a shot in the dark

German soldiers
Noninvasive brain stimulation could enhance the effectiveness of military training and improve the performance of soldiers on the battlefield, but its collateral effects on the mind are largely unknown. Photograph: public domain

Ever since the invention of the two-handed club, warfare and technology have been inextricably linked. More often than not, the humans who are sent into battle have been mere pawns in these hi-tech contests. So we shouldn’t be surprised if the military are eying up one of the most exciting new technologies in neuroscience, noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS), which uses electrical or magnetic fields to remotely influence the activity of particular parts of the brain and could boost physical and mental performance. (more…)

Walking with the Buddha: a great photo opportunity?

Buddha statues in the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Being there is a concept, and the Buddha that you see is a mere appearance. You cannot photograph the real Buddha, even if you have a very expensive camera’

How we love our celebrities, even those of us who profess to be aloof from all that sort of thing. Special guests are often invited to morning conference at the newspaper where I work. These newsworthy people say whatever is on their mind and answer questions – all off-the-record. We’ve had some big names, heroes to many of us – Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough, Russell Brand, Jesse Jackson – and on these occasions the meeting room overflows with discretely adoring fans.

After Russell Brand’s appearance, in which he won us over with his wit and often obscene comic genius, many stayed behind to have their picture taken with him. Even feminist journalists, who might have baulked at his unashamed objectification of women, had fallen under his spell and elbowed their way through the crowd to get a priceless “selfie” on their smartphones with him. (more…)

Research roundup: mindfulness for young offenders and breast cancer survivors, and brain-training for the elderly

handcuffs
Can mindfulness help prevent the downward spiral into emotional disturbance and impulsive behaviour in stressful environments such as prisons and young offenders institutions?

This month’s roundup of brain plasticity and mindfulness research features adolescents in young offenders institutions, women who have survived breast cancer, and a brain-training game for older people. For a complete list of mindfulness research published last month, check out the wonderful Mindfulness Research Guide. (more…)

Mindfulness monthly: irate taxi drivers, craving and paranoia

London taxi
A London taxi. Angry driving is bad driving. Photograph: Ed_g2s/Wikimedia Commons

Driving a stifling taxi cab on clogged city streets for hour after hour – scared half to death by careless pedestrians stepping into the road, harangued by passengers late for their lunch appointments, exasperated by the incompetence of your fellow drivers – would tax the patience of Mahatma Gandhi.

These men and women deserve our sympathy. They need our help to get through their shift without winding down the window and shouting obscenities at the next person who annoys them. Or worse. Quite apart from the danger to other road users, there is also ample evidence that anger can lead to a heart attack and raises the risk of heart disease.

Anger management

Psychologists have investigated the causes and consequences of aggressive, angry driving, but much less attention has been paid to strategies for preventing it. There have been a few attempts to measure how good cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) are at changing the attitudes and responses of angry drivers to certain cues, but now researchers in Iran have conducted the first study to compare the effectiveness of these two approaches. (more…)

Uncanny synchronicity in the brain during near death experiences and meditation

Stone Buddha head enveloped by roots
The Buddha is said to have entered a state of deep meditation as he died

People who have had a near-death experience commonly report a sense of wellbeing and peace, detachment from the world, the feeling of being outside their own body, and seeing a bright light. People who meditate deeply often report very similar sensations. Research reported yesterday in the journal PNAS suggests what may link the two experiences. (more…)

Cigarettes and cupcakes: mindfulness meditation reduces craving

Delicious cupcakes
Resistance is useless: it just makes the craving worse

Life is so unfair. Trying to give up something you’re addicted to just makes you crave that thing even more, whether it’s cigarettes, alcohol or sugar. You’re caught in a Catch-22: you want to quit, but the more you try, the harder it gets to resist temptation. Perhaps the key is not to try so damn hard, but instead improve your brain’s capacity for self-control.

It might just work… (more…)