Unleash the Hounds! Science Edition

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MIAMI (TWH)  –  There is a lot of science being reported that is of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, more than our team can write about in depth in any given week. Therefore, the Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Here are our favorite picks this month.

A team of sociologists recently published an article titled “Mixed Blessing: The Beneficial and Detrimental Effects of Religion on Child Development among Third-Graders” in the journal Religions.  The team focused their attention on a longitudinal sample of children from their baseline in 1999 to outcomes in 2002.  The sample was constructed as being nationally representative for the US.

Researchers explored whether frequent parental religious attendance, parental discussion of religion, and spousal conflict over religions would have any impacts of the academic performance on the children.  The study found that the third grader’s social competence and psychological adjustment were related to parental religiosity, a term used to describe interaction or adherence to religious institutional ideas.  However, student performance on math, reading and social science tests were adversely affected.

So, children from adherent households had certain gains not observed in religious households; but these gains are more social than academic. The researcher points out that “long-term developmental trajectories beyond the roughly three-year span between baseline and outcome data analyzed here need additional scrutiny, as does the prospect of religious change among parents.  Nevertheless, they note that findings are consistent with theory in that religious thought emphasizes moral and social awareness interaction.

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Research from Oregon State University suggests that entrepreneurs may be able to combat exhaustion through mindfulness training.  The research presented in the Journal of Business Venturing, looks at the use of mindfulness by about 3,000 individuals who previously participated in the 2011 Swedish Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey but only a small subset of whom were active entrepreneurs.

In one of the two studies presented, researchers asked about exhaustion levels, daily sleep length, and mindfulness practices including amount of time and frequency.  Interestingly, the researchers found that entrepreneurs who either slept more or engaged in mindfulness practices reported the lowest levels of exhaustion. The second study of entrepreneurs confirmed the findings of the first study.

Interestingly, mindfulness did not appear to mitigate exhaustion when participants reported receiving adequate sleep.  In other words, the mechanism by which mindfulness may reduce exhaustion may be the result of reducing stress and raising awareness about energy and personal control.  The researchers are cautious to note that there is no substitute for healthy sleep, but that mindfulness can mitigate the effects of sleep loss temporarily.

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Preliminary research using “microdoses” of psychedelic substances derived from truffles, peyote, and other ‘magic mushrooms’ may improve creativity and problem-solving.

In a study published in the journal, Psychopharmacology, researchers conducted the experiment during a “microdosing event organized by the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands.” Microdoses are defined as extremely small amounts of substance per body weight of the individual presumably much below the amount needed to produce a psychedelic effect. But, the exact nature of microdosing remains poorly described. Even so, the sample of 38 volunteers displayed improvements in mental flexibility on tasks involving divergent thinking (finding new ways to solve problems through brainstorming, for example) and convergent thinking (synthesizing information to find optimal solutions).

The researchers caution that the findings are preliminary and do not follow * the rigor of a true experimentation.  However, they note that these findings add to the growing evidence that plant and fungus-based hallucinogenic substance ranging from peyote to ayahuasca, may provide cognitive benefits and urge future research.

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A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that long-term participants in ayahuasca ceremonies reported important psychological benefits.  The research conducted in Spain involved 380 ritual users of the ayahuasca, a brew prepared principally from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and used as a traditional spiritual medicine by the indigenous people of the Amazon.

Researchers found that, when compared to normative indicators from Spanish health data, users of ayahuasca reported reduction in the use of prescription medications and further reported higher healthy and healthy lifestyles including a sense of well-being and engagement of coping strategies. Participants who had used ayahuasca more than 100 times “scored higher in personal values”. The researchers caution that the findings are preliminary but urge for more studies to explore whether ayahuasca consistently produces public health benefits as well as the enactment of legislation that allows these studies of proceed which are currently limited by the legal classification of ayahuasca that limits its availability for research.

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The American Heart Association released research supported by the WellPoint Foundation and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggesting that green neighborhoods may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association explored the relationship between the presence of green vegetation on satellite imagery and biomarkers of cardiovascular injury. The researchers found that after taking into account the independent effects of age, sex, race, smoking status, neighborhood deprivation, statin use, and roadway-based pollution exposure, neighborhood greenness was associated with lower risk factors of cardiovascular injury as measured by blood and urine tests.

The study did not address the length of exposure to greenness and acknowledge that a full understanding of the interaction with racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic indicators could not be fully addressed.  However, the researchers note that neighborhood greenness appears to be an important factor in healthy living and recommend future research.

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Researchers at Aarhus University found that children who grew up in greener spaces have a reduce risk of developing mental disorders in later life. The findings were presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The study of almost 900,000 individuals suggests that children who had the lowest level of exposure to green surroundings experienced a 55% higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders.  The researchers strongly note that there is a complex set of psychological and physiological mechanisms affecting the development of psychiatric disorders.  But, while the evidence suggests that green space exposure may be important, the mechanisms by which such spaces produce a potentially psychological protective effect is unknown.

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Finally Happy Pi Day!  And, congratulations to Google employee, Emma Haruka Iwao, who used the company’s cloud system to extended the calculations of Pi and now holds the word record for the highest number of digits calculated, extending the sequence to 31 trillion digits!