Love Drugs (literally)

Love potions have been a plot point in fairytales for centuries.

Now, thanks to dramatic advances in our understanding of the neuroscience behind love, they’re close enough to reality to be studied by Oxford University researchers. Anders Sandberg, a neuroethicist at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute,  He says that while we can’t buy romance pills yet, it’s only a matter of years before they exist. His work combines neuroscience and philosophy to unpack the ethical consequences of such pills, and just how they’ll fit into our lives.

“All our emotions are built on the foundations of neuroscience,” Sandberg says—whether that’s fear or anger or love. Recently, neuroscientists have begun to map out just what happens in the brain when we’re in love, bringing us closer to artificially recreating those neurochemical processes. “While there’s still not anything you can find in the supermarket or approved, we’re getting towards the point where they probably will show up,” he says.

Images of the brain show that love is, well, extremely complicated. Different parts are involved in the initial lustful attraction, the rush of falling in love, and the commitment and affection of long-term love. Romance drugs are most likely to focus on the last, long term part.

Different from the love potion of song that you drink, then fall in love with the next person you see.Ethically it would be worrisome for that to happen. A love drug may come to be something you take with someone, to keep or enhance your love. 

Oxytocin is key

The brain system which determines long term commitment was discovered first in prairie voles. One species is monogamous and another closely related one is promiscuous. It turns out that the differences in their oxytocin systems is behind the different behaviors. Oxytocin helps couples stay together. Not just in voles, as neuroimaging studies in humans who say they are in love also show that oxytocin is the key element.

Drugs are already available to release oxytocin, (some are not legal), and experimentation of new substances such as MDMA and ayahuasca, an Amazonian hallucinogenic.  Sandberg says  “Ecstasy is not implausible.” 

Sandberg thinks the drugs we have now do not last long enough to be effective at improving romance. “You probably want to teach your brain to produce oxytocin when you actually meet your partner,” he explains. “You want to teach the brain: This is the person I’m together with.”

We also need to ask ourselves if we want to fool with love? Maybe fading love is telling us something important that we need to pay attention to.

In some senses,though,  we already interfere with the pathways of long-term love, argues Sandberg.

  • “Should people having trouble in a relationship go to a marriage counselor?” he asks.
  • “Shouldn’t a marriage just fall apart naturally?…
  • If someone goes away on a romantic holiday that costs a lot of money and comes back with a better marriage, we’d probably say, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’”

“But surely there’s a clear line between medicalization and other means of improving a marriage, just as in sports there’s a difference between physical training and using drugs to boost performance? Well, the key concern in the sporting analogy is cheating, says Sandberg. Cheating in how you fall in love doesn’t make much sense: “Could you look at a married couple and say, ‘They cheated”?” he asks. “‘They’re deeply in love but they got to that state in the wrong way. Ha, those losers.’”

The question is would these drugs be good to have. Romantic love can be wonderful, but it isn’t always positive. In fact, maybe drugs that inhibit romantic love would be useful, for example, in letting people leave an abusive relationship.Or even just to ease that heartbreak of a failed relationship. 

“Beyond the requisite drug trials and safety questions, these ethical concerns are likely to delay the introduction of love drugs. “I think in many ways, the drugs might be the easy part,” Sandberg says. “Figuring out how they actually fit into our lives is going to be the great challenge.”’

“Love drugs” will soon be a reality. But should we take them?

Why stressed minds are more decisive

“When we’re put under pressure, our brains can suddenly process information much faster – but only in certain situations, says neuroscientist Tali Sharot.”

Some of the most important decisions you will make in your lifetime will occur while you feel stressed and anxious.

Do we become better or worse at processing and using information under such circumstances?

 

A perceived threat made firefighters better at processing information

“My colleague Neil Garrett, now at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in New Jersey, and I ventured from the safety of our lab to fire stations in the state of Colorado to investigate how the mind operates under high stress.”

“Firefighters’ workdays vary quite a bit. Some days are pretty relaxed; they’ll spend part of their time washing the truck, cleaning equipment, cooking meals and reading. Other days can be hectic, with numerous life-threatening incidents to attend to; they’ll enter burning homes to rescue trapped residents, and assist with medical emergencies. These ups and downs presented the perfect setting for an experiment on how people’s ability to use information changes when they feel under pressure.”

“When you’re stressed, your brain undergoes physical changes that can make it hard to ignore possible dangers.
We found that perceived threat triggered a stress reaction that made the firefighters better at processing information – but only as long as it conveyed bad news.”

“This is how we arrived at these results. We asked the firefighters to estimate their likelihood of experiencing 40 different aversive events in their life, such as being involved in a car accident or becoming a victim of card fraud. We then gave them either good news (we told them that their likelihood of experiencing these events was lower than they’d thought) or bad news (that it was higher) and asked them to provide new estimates.”

“Cortisol levels spiked, their heart rates went up and, lo and behold, they suddenly became better at processing unrelated, yet alarming, information”

“Research has shown that people are normally quite optimistic – they will ignore the bad news and embrace the good. This is what happened when the firefighters were relaxed; but when they were under stress, a different pattern emerged. Under these conditions, they became hyper-vigilant to any bad news we gave them, even when it had nothing to do with their job (such as learning that the likelihood of card fraud was higher than they’d thought), and altered their beliefs in response. In contrast, stress didn’t change how they responded to good news (such as learning that the likelihood of card fraud was lower than they’d thought).”

“Back in our lab, we observed the same pattern in undergraduates who were told they had to give a surprise public speech, which would be judged by a panel, recorded and posted online. Sure enough, their cortisol levels spiked, their heart rates went up and, lo and behold, they suddenly became better at processing unrelated, yet alarming, information about rates of disease and violence.”

“When you experience stressful events, whether personal (waiting for a medical diagnosis) or public (political turmoil), a physiological change is triggered that can cause you to take in any sort of warning and become fixated on what might go wrong. A study using brain imaging to look at the neural activity of people under stress revealed that this ‘switch’ was related to a sudden boost in a neural signal important for learning(known as a prediction error), specifically in response to unexpected signs of danger (such as faces expressing fear). This signal relies on dopamine – a neurotransmitter found in the brain – and, under stress, dopamine function is altered by another molecule called corticotropin-releasing factor.”

“Such neural engineering could have helped early humans to survive. When our ancestors found themselves in a habitat filled with hungry animals, they benefited from an increased ability to learn about hazards so as to avoid predators. In a safe environment, however, it would be wasteful to be on high alert constantly. A certain amount of ignorance can help to keep your mind at ease.”

“So a ‘neural switch’ that automatically increases or decreases your ability to process warnings in response to changes in your environment might be useful. In fact, people with clinical depression and anxiety seem unable to switch away from a state in which they absorb all the negative messages around them.”

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons and is edited for space.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180613-why-stressed-minds-are-better-at-processing-things

You can outsmart your brain – Neuroplasticity

Scientists used to think that the brain didn’t change after childhood. While it is true that our ability to learn new things is greater in our early years, it turns out our brains reorganize, physically change, and alter the function of different parts through our lives.

Each time we learn a new skill, make a new memory, rethink, respond, react, interact our brains change. Your brain is changing right now reading this post.

Why is this important?

Exercising and strengthening our brains is as important as keeping our bodies strong and limber.  The way you keep your brain in good shape spends on what you pay attention to, what you think, what you feel, and how you react to your environment.  You can change your brain with purpose by understanding how neuroplasticity works.

Two Main Ways You Can Drive Neuroplasticity

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”*

Donald Hebb developed the idea that when two neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that they connect more strongly.  Because neuroplasticity follows this rule, it’s fundamentally reversible. Neurons that fire together wire together, but when neurons “fire apart” their connection becomes weaker. That means your brain works on a “use it or lose it” principle. Information and behaviors that you do not use weaken and may be completely lost. This is called called “synaptic pruning.

“It is almost just as easy to drive changes that can impair one’s memory or slow down one’s mental or physical control as it is to improve one’s memory or speed up the brain’s actions.”**

Brain change comes from external experiences

What we practice or are exposed to becomes part of our brain wiring.

Everything that happens in our life wires our brains.  What we repeatedly do becomes wired – everything from muscle patterns (remember when you first learned to walk, ride a bike?), to skills (learning a native language – when’s the last time you thought about how to form a sentence?) to smiling or frowning (do you have to concentrate on each of your facial muscles to express a feeling?).

To keep our brains growing, functioning well and avoiding decline, we need to give it challenges such as learning new skills, exploring new places, changing routines and interacting with people.

Brain change comes from internal experiences

Mental & emotional exercise changes our brains too. What we think and imagine can change our brains for the better or worse. Where we focus our attention directs the synaptic connections, the brains wiring, and develops and strengthens connections.

We can purposefully and actively create the connections we want. Thoughts and images we replay in our minds create stronger connections.  Make neuro-connections by thinking of things in sequence, create positive mental images, do crossword puzzles. (You already do this whenever you study for a test, read a book, rehearse what to say, worry about your future, ruminate on the past.)

Here are some proven ways to positively impact our brains:

 Mindfulness:

Practicing mindfulness is learning to control your thoughts and develop ability to focus where we choose.

Meditation:

By decreasing stress, anxiety and depression meditation helps encourage neurogenesis (development new brain cells). This can happen in just a few weeks.

Visualization: 

Neurons fire whether something is real or imagined. Imagining doing something is not very different from doing it in terms of  brain wiring. Athletes use this to “practice” by imagining a perfect performance over and over. It helps them actually perform better.  Research has validated that the practice influences physical changes from muscle strength to brain pathways.

Now that you’ve finished reading, give yourself a pat on the brain for all the new neuro-connections it has just made for you.

*neuro-scientist Carla Shatz

**Dr. Michael Merzenich,  author of  Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life 

Reference: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/

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Daunted by “spring” cleaning? Blame your brain

I’ve barely made a dent in the editing down of this article.  Why?  It’s a big article, I don’t know where to start and I am  blaming it on my brain.

Cluttered Closet by Peggy

 “Closets bulging with clothes and shoes. Plastic bins of stuff shoved under the bed. Stacks of mail covering the dining table. Has anyone seen the car keys?”

“It’s spring, time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Time to throw open the windows and do some spring cleaning. But the magnitude of the project is daunting. How to begin?”

“If you want to know why it’s so difficult to tackle a big project like spring cleaning, blame your brain, said Randall O’Reilly, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at CU Boulder.”

“The brain is wired to be very cautious and conservative in starting big projects, because once you do start, it takes over your brain,” he said. “The brain, researchers think, is wired to track progress towards whatever it is you’ve decided to do, like spring cleaning, which is hard work. You have to make a lot of difficult decisions and the outcome is uncertain. Your brain recognizes that and says, ‘Maybe I won’t start on that project after all.’ It’s an adaptive property of the brain.”

“Once we get over the initial stalling and begin the project, the brain rewards us with small hits of dopamine as we make progress. This provides an incentive to stick with the task.”

“Dopamine is a chemical released by neurons that sends signals to other nerve cells and plays a major role in both mood and reward-motivated behavior.”

“So, you’ve tackled cleaning and decluttering and you’re making progress. And then you notice the teapot that belonged to your grandmother stored in the back of the cupboard. It’s sweet and dainty and evokes fond memories of your grandmother, but it’s not your style at all. Now you’re confronted with a dilemma: Keeping a teapot you never use is taking up much-needed space, but getting rid of it would feel disrespectful to your grandmother.”

“Things with an emotional attachment take on meaning,” O’Reilly said. “The teapot is not just a teapot. It has a personal history, so it’s unique in that sense. If you get rid of the teapot, it feels sacrilegious. It’s valuable to you because it carries that authenticity and history with it, so it feels like you’re disrespecting that value.”

“So, why do we accumulate clutter? The answer is found in the dopamine system, which is based on expectations. When we accumulate something or have a pleasurable experience, the brain releases dopamine and we feel good. As soon as our wants and desires are satisfied, however, the brain discounts that feel-good moment.”

“You can see mathematically that the brain is constantly comparing what we have versus what we expected to get,” he said. “Every moment of our lives, that’s what our brain is doing. How much better is that movie versus what you thought it would be? How much better was that cookie than you remembered? Every single thing is being compared to a baseline of what your expectation is.”

It needs to be better than what you expected

“Attachments to things are like those expectations. We want them and feel that we need them. This is where it gets diabolical, O’Reilly said. If something we like is meeting our expectations, we no longer get a dopamine burst. Our brains are constantly trying to up the ante, so we continue to acquire more stuff to feel better.”

“To get the dopamine surge, the experience needs to be better than what you expected. If it just meets expectations, guess what? No dopamine for you! The flip to the reward of dopamine is a downer.”

“If the experience was less than you expected, there’s actually a reduction in the firing of dopamine neurons, leaving you feeling disappointed,” O’Reilly said. “Then the brain tries to come up with new ways to get the dopamine. It needs to be better than what you expected.”

“The expectation system is what drives learning,” he said. “This system in our brains drives us forward, to learning more and more. You’re changing your expectation level, your sense of self. Don’t have attachments. Have ambition.”

https://www.colorado.edu/today/2018/03/27/daunted-spring-cleaning-blame-your-brain-professor-says

Read

Loss Aversion – why we don’t declutter.

 Click Here: Spring has Sprung and so have I

 

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Are you as bizarre as I think you are?

I know the difference between reality and imagination.

My vision is smooth and continuous.

I can tell the difference between my limbs and yours.

I consciously control my behavior.

Turns out I’m wrong and YOU are no different.  

“There are hundreds of surprising, perspective-shifting insights about the nature of reality that come from neuroscience. Every bizarre neurological syndrome, every visual illusion, and every clever psychological experiment reveals something entirely unexpected about our experience of the world that we take for granted. Here are a few to give a flavor:”

Famous illusion done by Meowie

1. Perceptual reality is entirely generated by our brain. “We hear voices and meaning from air pressure waves. We see colors and objects, yet our brain only receives signals about reflected photons. The objects we perceive are a construct of the brain, which is why optical illusions can fool the brain.”

2. We see the world in narrow disjointed fragments.  “We think we see the whole world, but we are looking through a narrow visual portal onto a small region of space. You have to move your eyes when you read because most of the page is blurry. We don’t see this, because as soon as we become curious about part of the world, our eyes move there to fill in the detail before we see it was missing. While our eyes are in motion, we should see a blank blur, but our brain edits this out.

3. Body image is dynamic and flexible. “Our brain can be fooled into thinking a rubber arm or a virtual reality hand is actually a part of our body. In one syndrome, people believe one of their limbs does not belong to them. One man thought a cadaver limb had been sewn onto his body as a practical joke by doctors.”

4. “Our behavior is mostly automatic, even though we think we are controlling it. The fact that we can operate a vehicle at 60 mph on the highway while lost in thought shows just how much behavior the brain can take care of on its own. Addiction is possible because so much of what we do is already automatic, including directing our goals and desires. In utilization behavior, people might grab and start using a comb presented to them without having any idea why they are doing it. In impulsivity, people act even though they know they shouldn’t.”

5. Our brain can fool itself in really strange ways. “In Capgras syndrome, familiar people seem foreign (the opposite of deja vu). One elderly woman who lived alone befriended a woman who appeared to her whenever she looked in a mirror. She thought this other woman looked nothing like herself, except that they seemed to have similar style and tended to wear identical outfits. Another woman was being followed by a tormenter who appeared to her in mirrors but looked nothing like herself. She was fine otherwise.”

6. Neurons are really slow. “Our thinking feels fast and we are more intelligent than computers, and yet neurons signal only a few times per second and the brain’s beta wave cycles at 14-30 times per second. In comparison, computers cycle at 1 billion operations per second, and transistors switch over 10 billion times per second. How can neurons be so slow and yet we are so smart?”

7. Consciousness can be subdivided. “In split-brain patients, each side of the brain is individually conscious but mostly separate from the other. In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), memories of a traumatic event can become a compartmentalized inaccessible island. In schizophrenia, patients hear voices that can seem separate from themselves and which criticize them or issue commands. In hypnosis, post-hypnotic suggestions can direct behavior without the individual’s conscious awareness“.

http://www.medicaldaily.com/7-cool-brain-facts-neuroscientists-know-about-consciousness-your-behavior-your-412191

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Pawsitively Tuesday – An neuroscience love song

Why does your heart race when you see your crush? What gives you that feeling of butterflies? And why does love make us act so dumb? This love ballad is our Valentine’s gift to you.


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Your brain is wired for gossip

Who knew my urge to read the National Inquirer headlines at the grocery store check-out stand means I’m highly adaptive in the food chain . . . if not the food market.  

This is fascinating!

Our intense interest in gossip is not really a character flaw. It’s part of who we are. It’s almost a biological event, and it exists for good evolutionary reasons.

P.S. If you aren’t in the mood to read the whole thing, scroll down to where I’ve highlighted in red the results of the study.

Psst! The Human Brain Is Wired For Gossip  by Jon Hamilton,

“Hearing gossip about people can change the way you see them — literally.

Negative gossip actually alters the way our visual system responds to a particular face, according to a study published online by the journal Science.

The findings suggest that the human brain is wired to respond to gossip, researchers say. And it adds to the evidence that gossip helped early humans get ahead.

“Gossip is helping you to predict who is friend and who is foe,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University and an author of the study.

Barrett is part of a team that’s been studying how gossip affects not just what we know about an unfamiliar person but how we feel about them. The team has shown that getting second-hand information about a person can have a powerful effect.

But Barrett and her team wanted to answer another question: Once hearsay has predisposed us to see someone in a certain way, is it possible that we literally see them differently?

That may seem like a strange thing to ask. But it makes sense when you consider that the human brain has a whole lot of connections between regions that process visual information and areas involved in our most basic emotions, Barrett says.

So the team brought in volunteers and had them look at faces paired with gossip. Some of these faces were associated with negative gossip, such as “threw a chair at his classmate.” Other faces were associated with more positive actions, such as “helped an elderly woman with her groceries.”

Participants in the study were shown a neutral face paired with (A) negative gossip, (B) positive gossip, (C) neutral gossip, (D) negative non-social information, (E) positive non-social information, and (F) neutral non-social information. When the study participants viewed the faces again, their brains were more likely to fix on the faces associated with negative gossip.
Then the researchers looked to see how the volunteers’ brains responded to the different kinds of information. They did this by showing the left and right eyes of each person very different images. So one eye might see a face while the other eye would see a house.

These very different images cause something called binocular rivalry. The human brain can only handle one of the images at a time. So it unconsciously tends to linger on the one it considers more important.

And the researcher found that volunteers’ brains were most likely to fix on faces associated with negative gossip.

Gossip doesn’t just influence your opinions about people, it actually influences how you see them visually,“ Barrett says.

The finding suggests we are hardwired to pay more attention to a person if we’ve been told they are dangerous or dishonest or unpleasant, Barrett says.

“If somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them. You want negative information, because that’s the stuff you can exploit to get ahead.”
– Frank McAndrew, Knox College psychology professor
Other scientists say that makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Even when primitive humans lived in small groups, they needed to know things like who might be a threat and who was after a particular mate, McAndrew says. And learning those things through personal experience would have been slow and potentially dangerous, he says.

So McAndrew says one shortcut would have been gossip.

“People who had an intense interest in that — that constantly were monitoring who’s sleeping with who and who’s friends with whom and who you can trust and who you can’t — came out ahead,” he says. “People who just didn’t care about that stuff got left behind.”

And it makes sense that our brains pay special attention to negative gossip, McAndrew says.

“If somebody is a competitor or somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them,” he says. “You want negative information, because that’s the stuff you can exploit to get ahead.”

Who knew tabloid news is the best thing

since we discovered fire?    

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