A letter to the Editor
Peter Singer's remarkably clear and comprehensive Practical Ethics has become a classic introduction to applied ethics since its publication in 1979 and has been translated into many languages. For this second edition the author has revised all the existing chapters, added two new ones, and updated the bibliography. He has also added an appendix describing some of the deep misunderstanding of and consequent violent reaction to the book in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland where the book has tested the limits of freedom of speech. The focus of the book is the application of ethics to difficult and controversial social questions.
<p>BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.</p>
<p>Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by abnormal social cognition. A core feature of ASC is disrupted Theory of Mind (ToM), our ability to take the mental perspective of others. ASC is also associated with alexithymia, a trait characterized by altered emotional interoception and empathy. Here, we applied structural MRI covariance analysis to assess whether ASC and alexithymia differentially affect structural brain networks associated with sociocognitive and socioaffective functions. Based on previous functional MRI findings, we expected disrupted ToM networks (centered on dorsomedial prefontal cortex [dmPFC], and temporo-parietal junction [TPJ]) in ASC, while alexithymia would affect networks centered on fronto-insular cortex (FI), regions associated with interoception of emotion and empathy. Relative to controls, ASC indeed showed reduced covariance in networks centered on dmPFC and TPJ, but not within FI networks. Irrespective of ASC, covariance was negatively modulated by alexithymia in networks extending from FI to posterior regions. Network findings were complemented by self-reports, indicating decreased perspective taking but normal empathic concern in ASC. Our results show divergent effects of ASC and alexithymia on inter-regional structural networks, suggesting that networks mediating socioaffective processes may be separable from networks mediating sociocognitive processing.</p>
Compassion has been suggested to be a strong motivator for prosocial behavior. While research has demonstrated that compassion training has positive effects on mood and health, we do not know whether it also leads to increases in prosocial behavior. We addressed this question in two experiments. In Experiment 1, we introduce a new prosocial game, the Zurich Prosocial Game (ZPG), which allows for repeated, ecologically valid assessment of prosocial behavior and is sensitive to the influence of reciprocity, helping cost, and distress cues on helping behavior. Experiment 2 shows that helping behavior in the ZPG increased in participants who had received short-term compassion training, but not in participants who had received short-term memory training. Interindividual differences in practice duration were specifically related to changes in the amount of helping under no-reciprocity conditions. Our results provide first evidence for the positive impact of short-term compassion training on prosocial behavior towards strangers in a training-unrelated task.
The phenomenon of empathy entails the ability to share the affective experiences of others. In recent years social neuroscience made considerable progress in revealing the mechanisms that enable a person to feel what another is feeling. The present review provides an in-depth and critical discussion of these findings. Consistent evidence shows that sharing the emotions of others is associated with activation in neural structures that are also active during the first-hand experience of that emotion. Part of the neural activation shared between self- and other-related experiences seems to be rather automatically activated. However, recent studies also show that empathy is a highly flexible phenomenon, and that vicarious responses are malleable with respect to a number of factors—such as contextual appraisal, the interpersonal relationship between empathizer and other, or the perspective adopted during observation of the other. Future investigations are needed to provide more detailed insights into these factors and their neural underpinnings. Questions such as whether individual differences in empathy can be explained by stable personality traits, whether we can train ourselves to be more empathic, and how empathy relates to prosocial behavior are of utmost relevance for both science and society.
This study examined the interplay of social engagement, sleep quality, and plasma levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a sample of aging women (n = 74, aged 61-90, M age = 73.4). Social engagement was assessed by questionnaire, sleep was assessed by using the NightCap in-home sleep monitoring system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and blood samples were obtained for analysis of plasma levels of IL-6. Regarding subjective assessment, poorer sleep (higher scores on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) was associated with lower positive social relations scores. Multivariate regression analyses showed that lower levels of plasma IL-6 were predicted by greater sleep efficiency (P < 0.001), measured objectively and by more positive social relations (P < 0.05). A significant interaction showed that women with the highest IL-6 levels were those with both poor sleep efficiency and poor social relations (P < 0.05). However, those with low sleep efficiency but compensating good relationships as well as women with poor relationships but compensating high sleep efficiency had IL-6 levels comparable to those with the protective influences of both good social ties and good sleep.
OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that socioeconomic status (SES) would be associated with sleep quality measured objectively, even after controlling for related covariates (health status, psychosocial characteristics). Epidemiological studies linking SES and sleep quality have traditionally relied on self-reported assessments of sleep. METHODS: Ninety-four women, 61 to 90 years of age, participated in this study. SES was determined by pretax household income and years of education. Objective and subjective assessments of sleep quality were obtained using the NightCap sleep system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), respectively. Health status was determined by subjective health ratings and objective measures of recent and chronic illnesses. Depressive symptoms and neuroticism were quantified using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Neuroticism subscale of the NEO Personality Inventory, respectively. RESULTS: Household income significantly predicted sleep latency and sleep efficiency even after adjusting for demographic factors, health status, and psychosocial characteristics. Income also predicted PSQI scores, although this association was significantly attenuated by inclusion of neuroticism in multivariate analyses. Education predicted both sleep latency and sleep efficiency, but the latter association was partially reduced after health status and psychosocial measures were included in analyses. Education predicted PSQI sleep efficiency component scores, but not global scores. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that SES is robustly linked to both subjective and objective sleep quality, and that health status and psychosocial characteristics partially explain these associations.
<p>Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.</p>
What would it be like to free yourself from limitations and soar beyond your boundaries? What can you do each day to discover inner peace and serenity? The Untethered Soul-now a New York Times bestseller-offers simple yet profound answers to these questions. Whether this is your first exploration of inner space, or you've devoted your life to the inward journey, this book will transform your relationship with yourself and the world around you. You'll discover what you can do to put an end to the habitual thoughts and emotions that limit your consciousness.
If you're lucky enough to live without want, it's a natural impulse to be altruistic to others. But, asks philosopher Peter Singer, what's the most effective way to give? He talks through some surprising thought experiments to help you balance emotion and practicality -- and make the biggest impact with whatever you can share. NOTE: Starting at 0:30, this talk contains 30 seconds of graphic footage.