Tag: Brain

How To Actually Keep New Year’s Resolutions, According To A Behavioral Scientist

If you plan on becoming a better person in 2015 by exercising more, eating less, or learning a new language, you’re going to need a whole lot more than just good intentions to get you there.

Here’s a little psychological experiment that just might help you stick to your goals.

So, in 2019 we’re all going to go to the gym more regularly, eat better, earn more, and read twice as many books, right?

Wrong – for the majority of us anyway. If you want a good indication for what you’ll be doing in 2019, your best bet is to look at what you did in 2018.

Studies have shown that good intentions alone will only prompt a change in behavior 20 to 30 percent of the time.




In the vast majority of cases, something a little more concrete is going to have to come into play if you want to make a meaningful change to your habits.

So, surprise, surprise, it takes a whole lot more effort to stick to your new year’s resolutions than just writing them down in a fancy list.

And even more discouraging – research has shown that the better we feel about our new year’s resolutions and our ability to stick with them, the less likely we actually will.

But, as Stephen J. Meyer writes at Forbes, it’s not hopeless:

“I’d be a hardened pessimist if not for one thing – there’s a magic bullet that can bridge the gap between goal intentions and goal accomplishment.”

“It’s what behavioural psychologists call “implementation intentions.” Ugly phrase, I know. But it could be the difference between achieving your goals in 2015 and failing miserably.”

So what exactly is this “implementation intentions” concept?

Back in 2002, researchers in the UK gathered together a group of volunteers who had set themselves the goal of taking up regular exercising. The volunteers were split into three groups.

The first group, called the “motivational intervention group”, was given educational materials showing that exercise does amazing things for your cardio-vascular health.

The second group was asked to plan and write down their “implementation intentions”.

For example, exactly where, when, what, they were going to do for exercise, and how frequently, and for how long, each session.

The control group was left to their own with no help from the researchers.

Amazingly, 91 percent of Group 2, who actually thought about and wrote down all the details of their plan, ended up exercising.

According to Meyer, just 29 percent of the control group and 39 percent of the group who learned extensively about the benefits of exercise ended up actually doing it.

So implementation intentions are essentially about fooling ourselves into doing something – you consciously formulate a plan, and then unconsciously execute it.

Gollwitzer mentioned a study in which students were asked to write a paper during the Christmas break.

Of the group that wrote down their implementation intentions – when and where they intended to write their paper – two-thirds of them actually did it.

Exactly zero students who didn’t write their implementation intentions got around to writing the paper.

Apparently similar results can be seen in people trying to lose weight.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Is Yawning So Contagious?

If looking at the image above makes you yawn, you’ve just experience contagious yawning.

What is yawning? And why do we do so much of it? Neuroscientist and yawn expert Robert Provine says it’s “ancient and autonomic.” It stems from early evolution and is common to many creatures—even fish do it.

It’s autonomic in the sense that it roots in the brainstem, way down in the basement level of the brain, where certain responses are so built-in they don’t even qualify as reflexes.

Yawning has many triggers, including boredom, sleepiness, and temperature.




A 2014 study suggested that there’s a “thermal window” (at around 68°F) for human yawning; as ambient temperature approaches body temperature or goes down near freezing, we yawn less.

According to the paper, we may yawn to regulate the temperature of our brains. This isn’t the same as saying we yawn to take in extra oxygen, as evidence to date says we don’t.

It means that yawning might act to draw brain-soothing ambient air in through the nose and mouth.

COPYCAT YAWNING?

Over the years, scientists have observed “contagious yawning” in chimpanzees, humans, baboons, bonobos, wolves, and, to a certain extent, dogs. Yawning feels good, so why not join in when someone else yawns?

Well, you’re not really “joining in,” because you aren’t copying the yawn on any conscious level. It happens because you just can’t help it. If you become self-conscious about a yawn, it stops.

While many past studies have documented the phenomenon, a more recent study, published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, contends that yawns may not be contagious after all—or at least that we have not yet proven it.

Experimental psychologist Rohan Kapitány of the University of Oxford conducted a review of the scientific literature on contagious yawns and found very little conclusive evidence to back up our long-held assumption that yawns are contagious.

The belief that yawns are contagious seems self-evident,” Kapitány said, “but there are some very basic reasons for why we might be mistaken in this.”

“If we fail to dissect that which we think we know, we might end up with conclusions that do not reflect reality.”

“In this instance, the literature hasn’t questioned the basic features of contagious yawning, and ended up with a wide range of unstandardized methodologies and conclusions.

Still, because Kapitány’s study was small and extremely limited, he and his fellow authors urge other scientists to challenge their findings with experiments of their own.

I may be wrong!” Kapitány said. “Maybe yawns are contagious!” Kapitány says he’d like to see “more robust” attempts to falsify the claim that yawns are contagious rather than “simply demonstrating it over and over [in] slightly different contexts with richer and richer explanations.

WHO DOESN’T CATCH YAWNS?

Some people with autism or schizophrenia don’t exhibit a yawn-contagion response. The same is true of children under the age of four years. This has led to a variety of theories about yawning’s relationship to empathy and the brain’s mirror-neuron system (MNS).

The idea here is that MNS deficits might lead to missing hidden empathetic cues that trigger contagious yawning. The MNS seems to be involved in the process to some extent.

fMRI scans on a range of people have shown that other parts of the brain also “light up” in response to images of yawning, perhaps more so than the areas normally associated with empathy.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

My Brain Thinks I’m Dead

On Nov. 5, 2013, Esmé Weijun Wang came to the remarkable conclusion that she was dead.

In the weeks prior to this, she had begun to feel increasingly fractured — like being scatterbrained, but to such an extreme that she felt her sense of reality was fraying at the edges.

She had started to lose her grip on who she was and on the world around her. Desperate to fend off what appeared to be early signs of psychosis, Wang went into a soul-searching and organizational frenzy.

She read a self-help book that was supposed to help people discover their core beliefs and desires; she ordered and scribbled in five 2014 datebook planners, reorganized her work space and found herself questioning her role as a writer.

Then one morning, Wang woke her husband before sunrise with an incredible sense of wonder and tears of joy to tell him it all made sense to her now: She had actually died a month before, although at the time she had been told she merely fainted.

I was convinced that I had died on that flight, and I was in the afterlife and hadn’t realized it until that moment,” said Wang, now 32, who was convinced her husband and their dog Daphne were dead as well.

“That was the beginning of when I was convinced that I was dead. But I wasn’t upset about it, because I thought that I could do things [in my life] over and do them better.




 

Her husband assured her that she — and he — were very much alive, an assertion she dismissed. But as the days passed, her bliss turned into total despair.

She lost all desire to work, talk or eat — because what’s the point when you’re already dead?

For almost two months, Wang suffered from Cotard’s syndrome, in which patients think they are dead or somehow nonexistent.

Any attempts to point out evidence to the contrary — they are talking, walking around, using the bathroom — are explained away.

French neurologist Jules Cotard first described the syndrome in the 1800s as a type of depression characterized by anxious melancholia and delusions about one’s own body.

In a case report published in 1880, Cotard wrote of a 43-year-old woman who “affirms she has no brain, no nerves, no chest, no stomach, no intestines . . . only skin and bones of a decomposing body.”

Although the condition is not classified as a separate disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there have been plenty of anecdotal accounts of what has been sensationalized as “walking corpse syndrome” and “life as a zombie.

Doctors who treat the condition say Cotard’s syndrome is a real illness, with patients believing they are dead and, like Wang, feeling extremely depressed, anxious and suicidal.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Do You See Weird Patterns When You Rub Your Eyes?

When in need of a quick psychedelic trip on a budget, everyone knows the fine art of squishing their eyes to see an in-head display of fuzzy colors, swirling visuals, and black and white checkerboards.

Even the ancient Greeks wrote about it in some of the world’s earliest medical texts. But what’s the science behind this?

Scientists call the phenomenon phosphenes, essentially experiencing sensations light without light actually entering the eye. They come in a few different forms, but the most common experience is a pressure phosphene.

Within our eyeballs, there’s a type of neuron called the retinal ganglion cell whose job is to receive visual information from the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina, the lining inside the back of your eyeball.

Usually, we see the world because the retinal ganglion cell receives information from photoreceptor cells that being stimulated by light entering the eye.

However, it’s also possible to activate the retinal cells through applying pressure. Gently pressing into your eye will apply pressure to the cells within the retina, “tricking” them into firing off in a similar way to activation by light.

Totally unable to differentiate the stimulation, the central nervous system will perceive it in the same way it would seeing light. Even a sneeze or a cough is enough for some people to spark up a small phosphene.




Poking your eyeballs is not the only way to experience fuzzed-out fireworks – if you’ve ever had a migraine, you’ll know all too well.

Scientists aren’t totally certain what causes the visual experiences that accompany a migraine, however, it could be due to a localized wave of electrical activity in the brain.

One study found that 47 out of 59 NASA and ESA astronauts also experience sudden phosphenes, mainly consisting of light flashes, when they are sent into low-Earth orbit.

The researchers on this project came to believe that the phosphenes were actually being caused by radiation.

Other studies have found it’s possible to induce phosphenes through direct electrical shocks of the brain’s visual cortex and through intense changes of magnetic fields.

There’s another related phenomenon known as prisoner’s cinema well-documented among people confined to dark cells for prolonged periods.

Faced with long periods of total sensory deprivation, people can see a “light show” of various colors that almost appear to be projected onto the pitch-dark walls around them.

All of this is a great way to get you think about the senses, your perception, and how we interpret reality around us. Just don’t poke your eyes too much or you’ll do yourself a mischief.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

What It’s Like to Have Exploding Head Syndrome?

If you’ve ever heard a sudden loud noise in your sleep that turns out to be imaginary, you’re not losing your mind.

In fact, you’re among the roughly 10-15% of people who have experienced Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS), a phenomenon that strikes as a person is falling asleep. Here’s what you need to know about the condition.

Exploding Head Syndrome can sound strange and disorienting

EHS starts when you hear a loud noise, ranging from the sound of fireworks and gunfire to thunder and lightning. It’s generally painless and lasts just a few seconds.

There’s this sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash in my vision, like someone has lit a spotlight in front of my face,” an EHS sufferer explained to the BBC.

People respond to EHS differently. Some think they’ve heard a real event and wake up confused, looking around for the source of the noise.




Others who have it more frequently may find it anxiety-inducing and start avoiding sleep, or feel panicked when they go to bed.

Some people have even incorporated the episodes into conspiracy theories.

Some individuals believe they’re not natural events, but are essentially caused by malevolent government agencies,” says Brian Sharpless, an associate professor at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Northern Virginia and author of the recent book Unusual and Rare Psychological Disorders.

Sharpless has led studies on EHS. “I’ve received a number of phone calls from conspiracy theorists who don’t believe the scientific explanations.”

It may stem from problems with the brain shutting down

Because EHS occurs when a person is falling asleep, researchers think it may be connected to the brain having problems shutting down.

The way I usually describe EHS is by considering the brain to be a computer,” says Sharpless.

You go through a series of steps when you’re shutting down your computer, and your brain does the same thing. As you go to sleep, your auditory and visual neurons are normally inhibited.

“What we think happens during EHS is that instead of shutting down, these neurons fire all at once. When they do they, they create a perception of sound, which is why sufferers hear the loud noises.

Sharpless found that EHS is connected to isolated sleep paralysis—a condition in which a person wakes up unable to move or speak for a few minutes at a time.

In a study of 211 undergraduate students, Sharpless and his team found that the overall EHS rate was 18%, and 37% of those with EHS also experienced sleep paralysis.

There are no well-established treatments for EHS, and there has never been a controlled trial for it, Sharpless says.

It’s probably not shocking to hear that there’s not a lot of money to study EHS and that many doctors have never even heard of it,” he says.

The best piece of advice for sufferers is “to not freak out and to realize that it’s a natural event,” Sharpless says.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Everything Is Memory

Today we go a little deeper and talk about the mystery of memory.
Check out Cheddar at their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC04K…

From Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to The Matrix, we’ve believed that reality is not exactly what we experience. Can that be because of the fact that we are all living in our own simulations – the conscious experience that our brain creates.

And this imagined reality creates the beliefs that we cling to and create our worldview around.

Study Shows Around 40 Percent Of Us May Have A Fictional Recollection As Our “First” Memory

It’s easy enough to explain why we remember things: multiple regions of the brain — particularly the hippocampus — are devoted to the job.

It’s easy to understand why we forget stuff too: there’s only so much any busy brain can handle. What’s trickier is what happens in between: when we clearly remember things that simply never happened.

The phenomenon of false memories is common to everybody — the party you’re certain you attended in high school, say, when you were actually home with the flu, but so many people have told you about it over the years that it’s made its way into your own memory cache.

False memories can sometimes be a mere curiosity, but other times they have real implications. Innocent people have gone to jail when well-intentioned eyewitnesses testify to events that actually unfolded an entirely different way.

What’s long been a puzzle to memory scientists is whether some people may be more susceptible to false memories than others — and, by extension, whether some people with exceptionally good memories may be immune to them.




A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences answers both questions with a decisive no. False memories afflict everyone — even people with the best memories of all.

To conduct the study, a team led by psychologist Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine, recruited a sample group of people all of approximately the same age and divided them into two subgroups: those with ordinary memory and those with what is known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM).

You’ve met people like that before, and they can be downright eerie.

They’re the ones who can tell you the exact date on which particular events happened — whether in their own lives or in the news — as well as all manner of minute additional details surrounding the event that most people would forget the second they happened.

To screen for HSAM, the researchers had all the subjects take a quiz that asked such questions as “[On what date] did an Iraqi journalist hurl two shoes at President Bush?” or “What public event occurred on Oct. 11, 2002?

Those who excelled on that part of the screening would move to a second stage, in which they were given random, computer-generated dates and asked to say the day of the week on which it fell, and to recall both a personal experience that occurred that day and a public event that could be verified with a search engine.

It was a Monday,” said one person asked about Oct. 19, 1987. “That was the day of the big stock-market crash and the cellist Jacqueline du Pré died that day.”

That’s some pretty specific recall. Ultimately, 20 subjects qualified for the HSAM group and another 38 went into the ordinary-memory category.

Both groups were then tested for their ability to resist developing false memories during a series of exercises designed to implant them.

In one, for example, the investigators spoke with the subjects about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and mentioned in passing the footage that had been captured of United Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania — footage, of course, that does not exist.

In both groups — HSAM subjects and those with normal memories — about 1 in 5 people “remembered” seeing this footage when asked about it later.

It just seemed like something was falling out of the sky,” said one of the HSAM participants. “I was just, you know, kind of stunned by watching it, you know, go down.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Why Are We Attracted To Fireworks?

Why are fireworks so mesmerising? The sudden, bright, moving sparks they emit are compelling to watch and seem mysterious because we’re so unused to light of that type travelling directly into our eyes.

In general, the colours we see are created by light bouncing off the reflective surfaces of objects around us.

As we encounter this reflected light all the time, we’ve become very good at unscrambling the colours in our brain and, as a result, anything different can seem otherworldly.




This could be why other sources of moving light, like shooting stars and fireflies, are also thought of as magical.

Another reason we look forward to bonfire night is because fireworks scare us. Unlike dogs and young children, who are simply overwhelmed by the noise, adults are spooked by the unpredictable gap between the flash and the bang.

It’s been proven that anticipation makes pain or shock worse, which is why doctors have now been advised not to warn patients a blood test may be painful.

The suspense created in the gap between expectation and event frightens us, which is fun, but only when we’re in control.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Study Reveals The Cheese Triggers The Same Part Of The Brain As Drugs

There’s a good reason why you just can’t resist reaching for another slice of Stilton.

Scientists claim that cheese is as addictive as drugs because of a chemical called casein.

This is found in dairy products and can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors, which are responsible for addiction.

The study, by the University of Michigan, took a look at which items act as the “drugs of the food world“.

The researchers discovered pizza was one of the world’s most addictive foods, largely because of its cheesy topping.

Fat seemed to be equally predictive of problematic eating for everyone, regardless of whether they experience symptoms of ‘food addiction,” Erica Schulte, one of the study’s authors, told Mic.




Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said that casein ‘breaks apart during digestion to release a whole host of opiates called casomorphins.’

Some scientists believe the influence of cheese is so potent that they refer to it as “dairy crack“.

A number of studies have revealed that casomorphins lock with opioid receptors, which are linked with the control of pain, reward and addiction in the brain.

[Casomorphins] really play with the dopamine receptors and trigger that addictive element,” registered dietitian Cameron Wells told Mic .

Milk contains a tiny amount of casein in milk, but producing a pound of cheese requires about 10 pounds of milk, so the chemical is ingested in high amounts.

According to the University of Illinois Extension Program, caseins makes up 80 per cent of the proteins in cow milk.

The average person is estimated to eat around 35 pounds of cheese – suggesting that it really as addictive as research claims.

The problem is particularly bad when it comes to highly-processed cheese such as ‘plastic cheese’.

Studies in animals have found that highly processed foods, or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates, may be capable of triggering addictive eating behaviour.

And people with symptoms of food addiction or with higher body mass indexes have reported greater problems with highly processed foods.

This suggests some may be particularly sensitive to the possible “rewarding” properties of these foods, said Erica Schulte, a U-M psychology doctoral student and the study’s lead author.

If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children,” Schulte said.

Nicole Avena, assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, and a co-author on the study, explained the significance of the findings.

This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response,” she said.

This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of ‘cutting back’ on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

 

How Your Brain Tells Time

In the middle of your brain, there’s a personal assistant the size of a grain of rice. It’s a group of about 20,000 brain cells that keeps your body’s daily schedule.

Partly in response to light signals from the retina, this group of neurons sends signals to other parts of the brain and the rest of the body to help control things like sleep, metabolism, immune system activity, body temperature and hormone production on a schedule slightly longer than 24 hours.

Daniel Forger, a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan who uses math to study biological processes, wants to understand this brain region, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in excruciating detail.




He is building a mathematical model of the entire structure that he thinks will shed important light on our circadian rhythm, and perhaps lead to treatments for disorders like depression and insomnia, and even diseases influenced by the internal clock like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

I think we’re going to be able to have a very accurate model of the circadian rhythm, all the key proteins, all the electric activity of all 20,000 neurons,” he says.

We’ll be able to track all of them for days on a timescale of milliseconds.

Forger has already taken a few steps down this path and found some surprises.

In a paper published in a recent issue of the journal Science, Forger, along with colleagues Mino Belle and Hugh Piggins of the University of Manchester in England and others, showed that the firing pattern of the time-keeping neurons in the SCN was not at all what researchers had long thought.

Researchers who studied the electrical activity of the SCN had believed that the neurons there helped the body keep time by sending lots of electrical signals during the day, and then falling silent at night. Makes sense. Lots of non-teenage creatures are active during the day and quiet at night.

But when Forger used experimental data to build a mathematical model of the electrical activity, he calculated that there should be lots of activity at dawn and dusk, and a state of “quiet alertness” during the day. That didn’t make much intuititve sense.

Worse, the cellular chemistry during this quiet period that Forger’s model predicted would, in normal cells, lead quickly to cell death.

Skepticism doesn’t begin to describe what I was met with,” says Forger. “Experimentalists told me, ‘That’s crazy.’”

Researchers in the field simply assumed Forger’s model was wrong. Forger refined it and reworked it, and got similar results.

Meanwhile, his British colleagues began to probe the fact that there are two types of cells in the SCN, ones that have very strong molecular clocks and do the timekeeping, and others that behave more like normal brain cells.

While previous researchers had recorded the activity of all of the cells in the SCN, Belle and Piggins were able to set up an experiment using mice that would record only the activity of the clock cells. Their experimental results matched Forger’s predictions.

When we got the results, they were shocking,” Forger says. “They were dead on.”

The cells in the SCN that don’t keep time followed the pattern researchers were familiar with, active during the day, quiet at night.

The time-keeping cells went bananas in the morning and at night, but then during the day they stayed in a bizarre state of excitement during which they emitted very few impulses. Why these cells can stay alive in this state remains a mystery.

Forger has been down this path before. Another study of his, published in 2007, reversed the thinking on how gene mutations affect circadian rhythms within cells.

Scientists studying a hamster that had a malfunctioning internal clock (its daily rhythm lasted 20 hours instead of 24) found that it had a mutation in a gene called tau.

The fuzzy rodent was given the extremely appropriate name “Tau Mutant Hamster.

They thought Tau Mutant Hamster’s mutation caused an enzyme that helped cells keep time to be less active. Forger predicted that it would instead make the enzyme more active. Experiments later proved he was right.

Now Forger is turning his attention to the entire SCN. He thinks that math is the only way we can understand the sheer complexity of what is happening–neurotransmitters coming and going, protein clocks being built up and broken down, electricity bouncing around.

To piece it all together, you need more than intuition,” he says. “You need math to see what’s going on.”

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science