Music Therapy: Tune in and chill out - research & findings

Image: musicgerication dot comMUSIC is a truly magical thing. It has the power to play on our moods, fine tune our brainwaves, pluck at our heartstrings, and unite entire nations under song. It has even proven to have a positive effect on livestock.

Last year a ten year old farm boy from Georgia won first place in a regional science fair for a project on how music improved milk production in cows. Daniel McElmurray tested the effects of classical, country and rock music on his father’s 300 cows. The experiment showed that their livestock preferred classical music over country and rock by producing 450 kilograms more milk.

Music possesses the power to reach parts of the brain that are not yet accessible to us, at least not on a conscious level. It almost makes one understand why so many artists and creatives turn to recreational drug use for inspiration.

We all know the effects that music can have on reducing stress and promoting relaxation, but music itself is becoming increasingly popular in the modern medical industry — a concept being dubbed as “music therapy”.

Music therapy studies and research

Research has shown that music has a profound effect on our bodies and psyche. Those who practice music therapy are finding it beneficial in helping cancer patients, children with ADD, helping ward off depression, promoting movement, calming patients, easing muscle tension and helping with pain management.

Guitar therapyMany experts suggest that it is the rhythm of the music or the beat that has the calming effect on us, although we may not be fully conscious of it. One theory, found at www.holisticonline.com, suggests that we were likely influenced by the heartbeats of our mothers while still in the womb. The idea is that we respond to soothing music at later stages in our life — perhaps associating it with the safe, relaxing and protective environment we once lived in.

Several studies have found that selections of Celtic, Native American as well as various music containing loud drums or flutes are extremely soothing. More interestingly, any music listened to live, even at moderately loud volumes, seems to have the most beneficial response. Equally beneficial is the effect of playing or creating music oneself.

“The entire human energetic system is extremely influenced by sounds. The physical body and chakra centres respond specifically to certain tones and frequencies. Whenever the proper sounds were experienced, an amazing right/left brain hemisphere synchronization occurs” — www.holisticonline.com

Music therapy findings

Even if you are not a believer in holistic medicine and chakra centers, music therapy has yielded several measurable results in recent years, such as:

  • An increase in deep breathing when hearing a particular tune
  • The body’s production of the happy hormone serotonin accelerates
  • Music has been found to reduce pain during dental procedures
  • music notesPlaying gentle background music while working or studying has been found to reduce stress and improve concentration
  • Music therapy can help counteract or prevent the damaging effects of chronic stress
  • It has even been shown to lower blood pressure, boost immunity and ease muscle tension
  • Music can also be used to bring a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety at bay
  • It can help keep creativity and boost optimism levels higher
  • Certain music has been found to reduce heart rates and increase body temperature — an indication that the body is entering a state of relaxation
  • Memorable music from our youth appears to be a very good choice.

According to stress.about.com, “the change in brainwave activity levels that music can bring can also enable the brain to shift speeds more easily on its own as needed, which means that music can bring lasting benefits to your state of mind, even after you’ve stopped listening.”

I can’t live a day without listening to my own brand of tunes. If you are feeling stressed out, uninspired or down in the dumps lately, don’t pop a pill; why not rather put on your favourite golden oldie.

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GloPets

BIOLUMINESCENT PETS: Glowing creatures that light up your life

BIOTECHNOLGY is a fascinating field. It has so much to offer society. It is not inaccurate to say that it will inevitably be the salvation of our planet. Advocates can immediately point to its beneficial uses in agriculture and the production of eco-friendly fuels.

However, it seems that a very fine line is crossed when science begins to toy with nature. In fact, it is almost impossible to utter the term “genetic engineering” without raising several ethical questions and rallying its opponents.

The world today would be a very different place if science was unregulated. In many instances, control over its application is necessary for there is such a thing as mad scientists who will stop at nothing to test their latest scientific experiments. However, the more level-headed scientists become frustrated when practical and theoretically beneficial applications are simply dismissed on ethical grounds.

Bioluminescent biotechnology is one seemingly innocent branch of science that has brought some interesting ideas to the table. Bio-geneticists in this field have spoken about glowing trees that light up highways, agricultural crops that glow when they need watering, and even bioluminescent methods of detecting dodgy meats and other foods. Yet the real controversy arose when they began speaking about bioluminescent pets.

Bioluminescent pets: GloFish sparks debate

Pet stores in the United States have been under the spotlight since 2004 over the sale of genetically-modified fish that glow in the dark. Sold under the name GloFish, these creatures carry a lofty claim to fame: they are the nation’s first officially sanctioned genetically-modified pet, and scientists say that they won’t be the last.

The GloFish is a Zebra Danio that is made to glow red by the insertion of a gene found in sea coral. Naturally black and white, the new GloFish has gone from curiosity to a focal point in the debate over biotechnology and bioluminescent pets.

There are valid points to be made on both sides of the debate. The central ethical concern centers on the idea of altering the genetic make-up of an animal when there’s no purpose besides our own pleasure. However, most bio-geneticists will argue that this has already been occurring for years.

Bioluminescent Pets: The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day

The pet industry is in many ways a peculiar venue for such a heated debate over the wisdom of genetic modification. The whole notion of a pet, after all, is based on generations upon generations of selective breeding aimed at drawing out certain characteristics that make animals more suitable companions.

Think about dog breeding and all the breeds of dog that wouldn’t be around without human interference. These pooches may not glow in the dark, but the fact that their genes were somehow manipulated can still be used in favour of genetic engineering.

The scary part is that geneticists could very well create an alien-looking, glow-in-the-dark dog. They’ve done it with mice and fish — the latter being the more popular. In fact, the GloFish has absolutely opened the floodgates to a whole new pet trade in genetically engineered animals.

Bioluminescent pets: Upsetting the natural balance of the wild

People who are opposed to the idea may also bring up the risk of unregulated gene-altered or bioluminescent pets upsetting the natural balance of nature and the wild. However, the idea of a rogue GloFish escaping its aquarium and spawning an army of mutant glow-fish in the wild that ultimately wipe out other species of fish, does not presently have a lot of backing.

Yet the question remains: How will a glowing fish benefit society? What’s interesting is that the GloFish was not originally engineered to be a pet. In fact, its creation was rather strange. According to a Washington Post article:

"... glowing fish of a related species were originally developed in a Singapore laboratory for use as a modern-day canary in a coal mine. The fish were supposed to indicate, by glowing, if a given body of water is polluted."

Although this practical use of glowing fish failed, there still seems to be more weight on the side of the debate that argues that genetic modification of animals in general can be advantageous to both people and pets. Researchers are already at work trying to create a cat that won’t aggravate its owner’s allergies. Other possible creations include a dog that isn’t as susceptible to hip dysplasia - an ailment common among German shepherds and Labradors that is associated with over-breeding.

Proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence

Some other proposed applications of engineered bioluminescence include:

• Detecting bacterial species in suspicious corpses.
Novelty pets that bioluminesce (rabbits, mice, fish etc.)
Agricultural crops and domestic plants that luminesce when they need watering.
Bio-identifiers for escaped convicts and mental patients.
Glowing trees to line highways, thus saving on government electricity bills.
Christmas trees that do not need lights, reducing danger from electrical fires.
New methods for detecting bacterial contamination of meats and other foods.

So will (or should) biotechnology be left to genetically modify our future pets? It seems that this is already the case. Whether they will be bioluminescent remains a question of personal taste and will ultimately be left to public demand. There will always be a market for the bizarre. Would I ever add a GloFish to my aquarium? Sure. You can get them in the U.S. for $5.

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TECHNOLOGY: How it may be rewiring our brains

THE Internet is not just changing the way people live but altering the way our brains work with a neuroscientist arguing that this is an evolutionary change which will put the tech-savvy at the top of the new social order.

Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specialises in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.

But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.

Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.

"We're seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills"
– Gary Small

In his newly released fourth book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Small looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information. In his book Small explains that the brain is very sensitive to changes in the environment such as those brought by technology.

A study of 24 adults using the Web revealed that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners did.

"The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others," said Small.

"The environment is changing. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is an advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution."

Small said this multi-tasking could cause problems as the tech-savvy generation, whom he calls "digital natives," are always scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even damage neural networks.

"There is also the big problem of neglecting human contact skills and losing the ability to read emotional expressions and body language," he said.

"But you can take steps to address this. It means taking time to cut back on technology, like having a family dinner, to find a balance. It is important to understand how technology is affecting our lives and our brains and take control of it.”

•Gary Small is the director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA.

- original copy supplied by Reuters

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Web Addiction 2.0
Is technology rewiring out brains?

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WEB ADDICTION: Synopsis, symptoms, statistics, research and treatment

Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m an addict. A web addict.

Several surveys and related research is leading to more and more psychologists being trained to identify and treat what has become known as Internet addiction or web abuse. It has even been suggested that web abuse be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders within the American Journal of psychiatry.

SYNOPSIS:
Internet addiction has been labeled as a compulsive disorder with cyber sex and cyber porn addiction being the most common forms. Like most addictions these have an impact on an individual’s social and personal life.

The disorder has been further sub-catergorised into addiction to online gaming, compulsive surfing and eBay addiction. However, it has been noted that these only become a problem when they interfere with normal living and cause severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and work performance.

Internet addiction appears to be having real effects on people. One blogger has pointed out how websites have been ironically set up to provide information for sufferers, as well as info for attorneys and psychologists.

SYMPTOMS:
According to netaddiction.com:

"Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the lives of addicts"

According to the Daily Telegraph web-addicts suffer from 4 symptoms:

  1. Forgetting to eat and sleep
  2. Needing more advanced technology or more hours online as ‘resistance’ to the pleasure given by their current system develops
  3. When deprived of their computer, genuine withdrawal symptoms are experienced; and,
  4. In common with other addictions, victims begin to have more arguments, suffer from fatigue, experience a decline in work performance, and begin to feel isolated from society - Andy Bloxham, Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2008

Related symptoms may be cravings (for better software, faster machines etc.), withdrawal (which may cause irritability, tremors and anxiety), a loss of sense of time, and negative social repercussions (such as neglecting real-life relationships). Some patients even report suffering nervous breakdowns when they can’t go online.

STATISTICS:
Although research into Internet addiction is sketchy (and usually concerns a group of white Americans) a few countries have conducted in-depth surveys. Below is a summary of the more recent findings.

  • British psychiatrists have reported that between 5% and 10% of online users are internet addicts.
  • In China the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital puts the number of teenage pathological computer users at 10 million.
  • Research from South Korea suggests the affliction is a serious public health problem, and estimates that 168,000 children may require psychotropic medications.
  • National (North American) surveys revealed that over 50% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions (mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex).
  • Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases.
  • Trends also showed that Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders (it has been suggested that web addicts often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations in reality).
  • Gender stereotypes also seem to translate online: men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, for example, while women are more likely to become addicted to chatting, instant messaging, eBay, and online shopping.

RESEARCH PROBLEMS:
It has been noted that around 70-80% of the subjects referred to in such research is comprised mostly of white Americans. However, the idea of Internet addiction does seem to be spreading around the globe like a 21st century plague.

Yet there is much dispute over whether or not such a condition is in fact unique. One psychiatrist has suggested that the Internet is merely another form of escapism for those with other problems:

"What most people online who think they are addicted are probably suffering from is the desire to not want to deal with other problems in their lives. Those problems may be a mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), a serious health problem or disability, or a relationship problem. It is no different than turning on the TV so you won't have to talk to your spouse, or going "out with the boys" for a few drinks so you don't have to spend time at home. Nothing is different except the modality" - John M. Grohol

TREATMENT:
Despite this, several doctors around the world are recommending various treatment options for those who believe they are web addicts. Dr Kimberley Young, who maintains www.netaddiction.com suggests that like an eating disorder, the key to beating Internet addiction is to develop a healthy pattern of consumption.

"Treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns" – Dr Kimberley Young

Dr Grohol, on the other hand, believes that Internet addition is simply a behavioral problem. He suggests that "it's the behavior, and behaviors are easily treatable by traditional cognitive-behavior techniques in psychotherapy".

I leave you with a snippet from Wired Magazine, which took a similar skeptical stance towards the idea that the Internet is dangerously addictive:

…it's so much easier to date an avatar. Sound familiar? Your friend the World Wide Web may be a monkey on your back. Or not. Just ask yourself this: If Google were a drug, would I smoke it?

Links:
Wired Magazine: Internet Addiction articles
News article: Internet addiction is a ‘clinical disorder’

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DEBUNKING XENOPHOBIA: Understanding xenophobia within racist discourse

"Thieving blacks", "kaffirs", "intruders" and "aliens" are a few of the phrases you might find in South African discourse, or on the web, used to describe the influx of people who have moved into South Africa in desperation to escape an authoritarian government. Although such words are prohibited from use in the mainstream media, they are still deeply entrenched within several South African mind-sets when hearing or reading about the 'xenophobia crisis'.

Debunking xenophobia: Research and 'the other'

According to a survey by the South African Migration Programme (conducted in 2000), South Africans display one of the highest levels of xenophobia in the world. Now surely we can be forgiven at some level considering that we are in one of the most racially diverse countries in the world and past policies such as those of Apartheid have helped to instill and reinforce an attitude of categorising and labeling 'the other'. Surely?

In fact, the process of labeling others who are different has existed since the dawn of humankind and exemplified by the colonial era. The caveman Jones family, who settled in a territory they considered as their own, had to sum others up by appearance and character to ensure that they and their territory (including food & shelter) were not under threat. European colonialists found it necessary to distinguish between human "types" in order to further scientific understanding. Today, invisible yet powerful borders between countries make it easier for us to categorise people, and consequently, guard ourselves against them.

Putting people into boxes (to use a figure of speech) has become an almost natural human process where the socially constructed concept of 'race' plays a central role. Extensive research and theories of race are still being devised to try and find a way to work and think around issues of race. However, if there is one thing that I have learnt through my studies, it is that there is no way to think around race. We need to rather, as Ruth Frankenburg suggests, “think through race.”

We have to acknowledge ourselves and others as raced subjects operating within a racist discourse, we need to have images and real sentiments regarding xenophobia in our face, and most importantly we need to be a little understanding and compassionate by imagining what it might be like to be in the shoes of ‘the others’.

Debunking xenophobia: The Burning Man

The photograph of a burning man, which has been used extensively in the media, has raised some relevant issues. Like the photograph of the falling man taken during 9/11, a very thin and jaggered line is crossed by the way these images are used. It goes beyond simply being a photograph and lands in a thick gravy-pot of human ethics and understanding.

One could argue that the meaning of the image has shifted from being representative of a particular event at a particular time to an iconic representation standing for an entire category of people, or a national crisis. This is in the same vain as images of the holocaust being representative of the atrocities committed during WWII.

The media have a strict obligation to remain impartial and not to publish content that may be harmful to society in any way. The decision of some papers not to include the Burning Man on the front page of their publications due to its violent imagery is an example of this obligation being implemented. However, it’s not hard to find the photo if it wasn’t in your paper and everyone is talking about it – I’m certain it will soon leak all over the web. In fact you’re likely to find the image published on more blogs and websites than it has been in newspapers.

Debunking xenophobia: The print media vs. the web media

With an increasing number of people (young and old) sourcing their ‘news’ online (where any gate-keeping process is at a minimum) there almost seems to be no point in resisting publishing such a photograph in print. However, "we must think about the children and protect them from such violence" – violence that they could otherwise watch on TV.

Personally I feel that images such as these should be in your face. I regard it as a representation of what some South Africans are doing to other human beings. Granted we need to watch our own backs and protect our jobs, yet there is always room for a little humanity in this world.

Debunking xenophobia

Necklacing

"Necklacing” is a form of execution whereby a tyre filled with petrol is lit and put around the victim’s neck

I have been labeled as a white middle-class male who happens to live in South Africa. I have a secure job and have not been directly affected in anyway by the ‘xenophobia crisis.’ You can call me indifferent, or a "privileged white", but never associate me with South Africans that torture their fellow human being.

As hard as it is to do, we need to start thinking outside the boxes.

Related post: Can Obama bring racial equality to the United States?

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