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What generates pessimistic mood?

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New York, Aug 14: Scientists have identified a brain region that could generate pessimistic moods in disorders such as anxiety or depression that leads people to focus more on the possible downside than the potential benefit in a stressful situation.

In a study tested on animals, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that stimulating caudate nucleus — a brain region linked to emotional decision-making –induced animals to make negative decisions.

The caudate nucleus, has within it regions that are connected with the limbic system, which regulates mood, and sends input to motor areas of the brain as well as dopamine-producing regions.

The study showed that the animals gave far more weight to the anticipated drawback of a situation than its benefit, compared to when the region was not stimulated.

This pessimistic decision-making could continue through the day after the original stimulation.

“We feel we were seeing a proxy for anxiety, or depression, or some mix of the two,” said Ann Graybiel, a professor at the MIT.

In the study, which appeared in the journal Neuron, the team wanted to see if they could reproduce an effect that is often seen in people with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The team stimulated the caudate nucleus with a small electrical current as animals were offered a reward (juice) paired with an unpleasant stimulus (a puff of air to the face).

The results showed that the cost-benefit calculation became skewed, and the animals began to avoid combinations that they previously would have accepted.

This continued even after the stimulation ended, and could also be seen the following day, after which point it gradually disappeared.

This result suggests that the animals began to devalue the reward that they previously wanted, and focused more on the cost of the aversive stimulus.

“This state we’ve mimicked has an overestimation of cost relative to benefit,” Graybiel noted.

The researchers also found that brainwave activity in the caudate nucleus was altered when decision-making patterns changed.

“There must be many circuits involved,” she said.

“But apparently we are so delicately balanced that just throwing the system off a little bit can rapidly change behaviour.”

IANS

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Holidaying at home more popular in India than foreign trips

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New Delhi, Nov 19: More than 40 per cent Indians value “holidaying at home” the most than buying luxury items or going to wellness and spa trips abroad, a survey has revealed.

According to the survey from YouGov on behalf of Priority Pass, among the world’s leading and original airport experiences programmes, 30 per cent Indians enjoy domestic short breaks, while over 25 per cent enjoyed a cultural trip overseas.

Nearly 20 per cent say a holiday at home is the activity they enjoy the most and would spend an average of Rs 23,619 on this type of break.

“People increasingly look for more ‘meaning’ in what they do, therefore possessions are proving less valuable than experiences, and the memories and learnings that we gain from them. In future, what we do will matter more — to us and our peer network — than what we buy,” said William Higham, consumer futurist and author of The Next Big Thing.

Indians were also found to overwhelmingly value shared experiences like catching a film at the cinema or going out for a meal (nearly 50 per cent each).

When it comes to sharing on social media, 42 per cent were most likely to post about trips to the cinema, and 39 per cent about showcasing food and drink they have prepared themselves.

On the other hand, more solitary activities like a fitness session at the gym (18 per cent) or buying a new luxury purchase (also 18 per cent) do not get shared as much on social media platforms.

These results suggest that a shared social experience is key to people’s enjoyment.

Conversely, buying luxury items and wellness holidays abroad came in much lower in India, with only 11 per cent of respondents likely to take this kind of trip in an average year and three per cent listing it as their most favoured activity.

The survey covers over 10,000 people from nine countries across all corners of the world, including 1,000 in India.

IANS

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Phool Waalon Ki Sair: An offering of communal unity at altar of secular India

The roots of the festival go back to the reign of one of the last Mughal emperors and Bahadur Shah Zafar’s father, Akbar Shah II, who was buried next to the dargah.

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Jawaharlal Nehru

When Syed Fariddudin Qutbi, the “khadim” (attendant) of the shrine of 13th century sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki in Meharauli, stepped out after offering a floral “chhatra” (a flower-embellished umberella) at the ancient Yogmaya temple located at a stone’s throw from the dargah, all he had to say was that in the small temple sanctum sanctorum suffused with a strong incense and jasmine fragrance, he felt the same tranquility and a “magnificent, invisible power” he feels at the dargah.

Part of the annual cultural festival “Phool Walon Ki Sair” (Festival of Flower Sellers), an initiative that promotes communal harmony and positive cultural exchanges since early the 1800s, many like Qutbi go beyond the bounds of religious identity, and encourage members of other communities to offer flowers and “pankhas” (fans) at places of worship that are considered not “their own”.

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The roots of the festival go back to the reign of one of the last Mughal emperors and Bahadur Shah Zafar’s father, Akbar Shah II, who was buried next to the dargah.

Legend has it that when his son Mirza Jahangir was imprisoned on the orders of the British, Akbar Shah’s wife vowed that she would offer a blanket at the sufi saint’s dargah upon his release. As fate had it, Shah’s son was released and the blanket was offered. Upon imperial orders, floral offerings were also made at goddess Yogmaya’s temple, which sparked public enthusiasm, causing it to become an annual tradition.

The festival was stopped in the 1940s when the British started their polarising efforts in line with their “divide-and-rule policy” that led to deep rifts between India’s two major religious communities, Mirza Mohtaram Bakht, secretary of the Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, the organisers of the fair, told IANS.

He said the festival was revived in 1961-62 by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It has, since then, been a regular occurrence and brings together hundreds of Delhi residents each year, Bakht said.

In today’s deeply polarised milieu where hate crimes against specific communities are just as rampant as the venom spewed against them on social media, the assimilating significance of the week-long festival takes a new turn.

“When our Hindu brothers offer a blanket of flowers at the dargah, members of the Muslim community take a step back and let them take the lead. Similarly, Muslim people are encouraged to offer a floral ‘chhatra’ to Devi Yogmaya. It’s a communion of hearts, and that can only happen if there’s ‘pakeezgi’ in people’s souls,” Qutbi told IANS, adding that he recommends extremists of all religions to at least experience other cultures once.

Rajnish Jindal, another resident of Mehrauli, who has been visiting the festival for 15 years, said that it was a matter of developing comfort with all religions and people from all walks of life.

“You go into a gurdwara, you find peace and comfort, that’s your ‘mahzab’ (faith); same is with a mosque or a temple or a church. It should be a matter of personal belief,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the path of “Phool Walon Ki Sair”, is often laden with thorns and threats.

“People say ‘tum karke toh dikhao, hum dekhte hai tum kaise karte ho’ (We’ll see how you do it); not everyone wants a secular nation that celebrates all its religions. It often happens covertly; 11th-hour permissions, indifference and excuses create hurdles for us, even if there is no direct visible opposition.

“We, however, give it back with our enthusiasm. Truth is always victorious. They can’t stop our caravan,” Bakht, a former geologist and a “proud Delhi-wallah”, said.

Kite flying competitions, processions, wrestling bouts, kabbadi and shehnai recitals mark the first four days of the seven-day festival, with offerings in the dargah and the temple earmarked for the fifth and sixth days.

This year, Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal offered the floral blanket at the dargah on Thursday, and Delhi government’s transport minister Kailash Gahlot offered a floral “chhatra” on Friday, along with members of both communities.

“Phool Walon Ki Sair” closed on Saturday with tableaus from over 11 states and a night-long qawwali singing programme.

(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected] )

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Slow reading speed linked to dry eyes: Study

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New York, Nov 17: People suffering from chronic dry eye disease are likely to have a slow reading rate, according to researchers.

The chronic dry eye is a common disease in which natural tears fail to adequately lubricate the eyes, thus drastically affecting its functioning.

The study found that the condition can slow a person’s reading speed by as much as 10 per cent and can make it difficult to read for more than an average of 30 minutes.

Those with clinically significant dry eye could read fewer words per minute — 32 words per minute less — than those without the condition, who read at the same rate of 272 words per minute.

“We suspected that people with dry eye were mostly unable to sustain good reading performance because their tears cannot re-lubricate their eye surfaces fast enough,” said Esen Akpek, from the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in the US.

For the study, published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, the team included 186 adults aged 50 or older.

The participants had not used prescription or over the counter eyedrops in the 24 hours before testing.

Importantly, all participants responded to eye discomfort vision quality and environmental contributors to eye complaints, such as wind or smoke.

People who experience frequent dry eye symptoms such as stinging, fluctuating vision and dryness can try over the counter eyedrops, but will do best if they undergo professional testing and diagnosis, said Akpek.

IANS

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