Tag: Brain

How Music Hacks The Brain

Music is a universal language. It kind-of makes us human. But why? Why does every culture around the world understand music? The answer may lie in what it does in our brains.

From mood regulation to immune system support, listening to music has measurable physiological effects on us. And learning to play music creates real differences in our brain structures that improve cognitive performance in several areas.

Some even argue that the development of music thousands of years ago shaped our species into what we are today, so let’s take a look at music, the most human thing we do.

Your Brain’s Incredible Healing Powers

The placebo effect is the phenomenon of your body responding to a treatment even if it’s not real. It happens so much, so strongly, and so often that it has to be factored in to any medical study.

It speaks to the amazing ability of the brain to physiologically change the body in surprising ways.

How To Hack Your Memory

Memory champions are capable of seemingly superhuman feats of memory, but it’s something we can all do – if you know a few tricks.

Also if you’re on Netflix, check out the documentary Memory Games.

Is Your Consciousness Just A Bunch Of Vibrations?

How does non-conscious matter create consciousness? The “hard problem of consciousness” is a question that has plagued philosophers, psychologists, and neurosurgeons for centuries. A new theory suggests it’s all about vibrations and synchronicity. It’s called The General Resonance Theory of Consciousness.

Does Your Mind Create The Universe?

Get a free month of CuriosityStream if you go to http://www.curiositystream.com/joescott!

In 2005, Robert Lanza introduced the theory of Biocentrism to the world. Using quantum mechanics and tests like the double-slit experiment, he argues that consciousness creates the universe and not the other way around

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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