The Write Way to help boost your immune system

“They were told to let go and to include their deepest thoughts, even if they had never shared these thoughts before. Four days running they did the same thing. It wasn’t easy. Pennebaker told me that roughly one in 20 students would end up crying, but when asked whether they wanted to continue they always did. Meanwhile a control group spent the same number of sessions writing a description of something neutral such a tree or their dorm room.”

“Then he waited for six months while monitoring how often the students visited the health centre. The day he saw the results, he left the lab, walked to his friend who was waiting for him in a car and told him he’d found something big. Remarkably, the students who had written about their secret feelings had made significantly fewer trips to the doctor in the subsequent months.”

Studies have shown expressive writing can reduce the amount of times people visit the doctor.

“Ever since, the field psychoneuroimmunology has been exploring the link between what’s now known as expressive writing, and the functioning of the immune system. The studies that followed examined the effect of expressive writing on everything from asthma and arthritis to breast cancer and migraines.”

“In a small study conducted in Kansas, for example, it was found that women with breast cancer experienced fewer troublesome symptoms and went for fewer cancer-related appointments in the months after doing expressive writing.”

“The aim of the study wasn’t to look at long-term cancer prognosis, and the authors are not suggesting the cancer would be affected. But in the short-term other aspects of the women’s health did seem better than for those in the control group who wrote about the facts surrounding their cancer rather than their feelings about it.”

There is one area where the findings are more consistent and that is in the healing of wounds

“But it doesn’t always work. A meta-analysis by Joanne Fratarolli from the University of California Riverside does demonstrate an effect overall, but a small one. Nevertheless, for an intervention that is free and beneficial, that’s a benefit worth having.”

“Some studies have had disappointing results, but there is one area where the findings are more consistent and that is in the healing of wounds. In these studies brave volunteers typically do some expressive writing, then some days later they are given a local anaesthetic and then a punch biopsy at the top of their inner arm. The wound is typically 4mm across and heals within a couple of weeks. This healing is monitored and again and again, and it happens faster if people have spent time beforehand writing down their secret thoughts.”

What does the act of committing words to paper do? Initially it was assumed this simply happened through catharsis, that people felt better because they’d let out their pent-up feelings. But then Pennebaker began looking in detail at the language people used in their writing.

“He found that the types of words people used changed over the course of the four sessions. Those whose wounds healed the fastest began by using the word “I” a lot, but in later sessions moved on to saying “he” or “she” more often, suggesting they were looking at the event from other perspectives.

They also used words like “because”, implying they were making sense of the events and putting them into a narrative. So Pennebaker believes that the simple act of labeling your feelings and putting them into a story is somehow affecting the immune system.”

But there is a curious finding which suggests something else might be going on.

“Simply imagining a traumatic event and writing a story about it also makes wounds heal faster, so perhaps it’s less to do with resolving past issues and more to do with finding a way of regulating your own emotions that makes a difference.”

Writing about your feelings doesn’t boost your immune system for life

“After the first day of writing most people say that churning up the past has made them feel worse. Does the stress cause people to release stress hormones such as cortisol, which are beneficial in the short-term and could enhance the immune system? Or is it the improvement in mood after several days of writing that brings the benefits for immunity? So far, no one knows.”

“Whatever the mechanism, despite several decades of research showing it works, it’s rarely used clinically. You could imagine a situation where people booked in for surgery are given expressive writing instructions in the preceding weeks, but very few studies have used clinical populations with real, surgical wounds, rather than giving healthy students artificially-induced wounds.”

“Also, it works better for some people than others, all depending on how well they engage with the process. What’s more, the effect is short-lived, so you’d have to get the timing just right. Writing about your feelings doesn’t boost your immune system for life. If the same people are wounded again a few months after an initial study, they don’t heal any faster than anyone else.”

But now new research from New Zealand suggests it’s not essential to do the writing before you are wounded. It can work just as well if you do the writing afterwards.

“This opens up the possibility of using expressive writing not just when surgery is planned, but for real-life injuries which of course we can’t predict. Kavita Vedhara from the University of Nottingham and her team in New Zealand took 120 healthy volunteers, and made them write about either a distressing event or how they spent the previous day. They did this either before or after a punch biopsy on their upper arm. The people from the expressive writing group were six times more likely to have a wound that had healed within 10 days than the people in the control group.”

“We’d need to have more studies conducted with real life patients, but maybe one day when we’ve had an operation, we might be told to go home with instructions on expressive writing.”

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170601-can-writing-about-pain-make-you-heal-faster

Find it hard to FORGIVE? Your “aSTS” may need “a fill-up”

Why do some of us find it easier to forgive?

When we feel that somebody has wronged us personally, we make a  moral judgment.  From a neuropsychological viewpoint, the act of judging a moral situation is incredibly complex and has a lot to do with intentionality – did the perpetrator really mean to do those awful things?

Making a mature moral judgment about a wrongful act involves not only considering the damage done, but also the perpetrator’s intention and mental state. When there is a clear contradiction between the two, however, intention seems to take precedence over the result of the action.

A study shows that a specific area in the brain called the anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) plays a key role in forgiving those who create unintentional harm.

Indrajeet Patil, the study’s primary author, details this further and puts the new research into context:

“Behavioural studies have already shown that when the intention and outcome of an action are conflicting, as in the case of sometimes serious accidental harm, people tend to focus mainly on the intentions when formulating a judgment. And this is more or less a universal feature of mature moral judgments across cultures.”

” . . . very few studies have taken on this issue from an anatomical point of view, to gain an understanding of whether differences in the volume and structure of certain areas of the brain might explain variations in moral judgment. This research attempted to explore precisely this aspect.”

Studying the neuroanatomical basis of forgiveness

To do this, the researchers asked 50 participants to complete a moral judgement task. The volunteers were presented with 36 unique stories and four potential outcomes for each of them.

Each scenario comprised four parts:

  • Some background information
  • A foreshadowing segment, in which it was suggested that the outcome would be either neutral or harmful
  • Information on the neutral or intentionally harmful mental state of the agent
  • The consequence, which revealed the agent’s action and the resulting outcome.

“Participants read each story and were asked to give their moral judgment by answering questions regarding “acceptability” and “blame.” . . . “the participants were asked: “How morally acceptable was [the agent]’s behavior?” and “How much blame does [the agent] deserve?” The volunteers gave answers based on a scale from 1 to 7.”

“While answering the questions, the participants’ brain activity was analyzed using voxel-based morphometry – a neuroimaging technique that allows for a holistic examination of brain changes while simultaneously preserving a high degree of brain region specificity.”

“The researchers also used neuroimaging to localize the neural areas responsible for the so-called theory of mind (ToM). ToM, or “mentalizing,” is a person’s ability to correctly attribute mental states – such as beliefs, intentions, and desires – to others based on their behavior. Mentalizing also refers to the person’s ability to explain and predict other people’s behavior based on these inferences.”

People with a more developed aSTS are more inclined to forgive

The results revealed a connection between the differences in moral judgement severity about unintentional harm and the volume of the left aSTS brain region.

More specifically, the more developed the aSTS was, the less blame was attributed to the wrongdoers. “The greater the gray matter volume [in this area], the less accidental harm-doers are condemned.” 

Patil further explains the findings:

“The aSTS was already known to be involved in the ability to represent the mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, etc.) of others. According to our conclusions, individuals with more gray matter at aSTS are better able to represent the mental state of those responsible for actions and thus comprehend the unintentional nature of the harm. In expressing judgment they are thus able to focus on this latter aspect and give it priority over the especially unpleasant consequences of the action. For this reason, ultimately, they are less inclined to condemn it severely.”

If you find it hard to forgive, your challenge NOW is to forgive your anterior superior temporal sulcus (aSTS) for not having more grey matter.  

The researchers were led by Giorgia Silani from the University of Vienna in Austria, and the study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Trieste University in Italy and Boston College in Massachusetts. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Your Nose Knows when You’re Tired

Sleep deprivation increases brain’s sensitivity to food smells

That might make snacks more enticing — helping explain why people who burn the candle at both ends tend to eat more and gain weight.

“Adults operating on only four hours of sleep inhaled food odors such as those from potato chips and cinnamon rolls, and nonfood smells like fir trees while undergoing functional MRI scans. (The scientists carefully controlled participants’ food intake throughout the day.) A few weeks later, the same participants repeated the experiment — this time with a full eight hours of sleep.”

“When tired, participants showed greater brain activity in two areas involved in olfaction — the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex — in response to food smells than they did when well rested. That spike wasn’t seen in response to nonfood odors, says study coauthor Surabhi Bhutani, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.”

Though preliminary, the results fit with previous research showing a link between sleep deprivation and both excessive calorie consumption and weight gain.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/food-odors-are-more-enticing-sleep-deprived-brains

Don’t Yawn at This Post

Bears do it; bats do it. So do guinea pigs, dogs and humans. They all yawn. It’s a common animal behavior, but one that is something of a mystery.

Humans can yawn from:

  • Boredom
  • sleepiness
  • hunger
  • anxiety
  • stress

All these trigger changes in brain chemistry, which can trigger a spontaneous yawn. But it’s not clear what the yawn accomplishes. One possibility is the yawn perks you up by increasing heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory function.

When violinists get ready to go on stage to play a concerto, they often yawn, says Provine. So do Olympians right before a competition, or paratroopers getting ready to do their first jump. One study found that yawning has a similar impact on the brain as a dose of caffeine.

Not all yawn researchers agree with this theory.

Researchers** reviewed several theories of yawning and concluded that the arousal theory lacks evidence. What they did find were several studies that show yawning is highly contagious among humans, suggesting that “yawns might have a social and communicative function,” 

“Looking at yawns, hearing yawns, thinking about yawns or talking about yawns will likely trigger a contagious response. Contagious yawning may have evolved in early humans to boost social bonding, according to Robert Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. A good group yawn could serve to perk everyone up to be more vigilant about danger, he says.”

“Another piece of evidence backing up the social bonding theory of yawning is a 2011 study by Ivan Norsicia and Elisabetta Palagi that found people are more likely to copy a yawn if they know the person who is yawning. A stranger’s yawn is less likely to trigger a contagious response. And while babies yawn spontaneously, children don’t engage in contagious yawning until about age 4 — around the same time they’re becoming more socially connected.”

What about other animals? All vertebrates, critters with backbones, yawn spontaneously. But very few yawn contagiously.

“Until the last few years, the feeling was that contagious yawning was unique to humans,” Provine says.

“. . . two more species have been added to the list of contagious yawners: dogs and chimpanzees. When two groups of chimpanzees were shown videos of familiar and unfamiliar chimps yawning, the group watching the chimps they knew engaged in more contagious yawning. This study, by Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waal, supports the theory that yawning plays a role in the evolution of social bonding and empathy.”

“And dogs not only catch each others’ yawns, they are susceptible to human yawning as well. In one study, 29 dogs watched a human yawning and 21 of them yawned as well — suggesting that interspecies yawning could help in dog-human communication.”

*Robert Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Provine has studied what he calls “yawn science” since the early 1980s, and he’s published dozens of research articles on it. “There’s still no consensus on the purpose of a yawn” he says, “the simple yawn is not so simple”.

DID YOU YAWN just reading about yawning?

** Adrian Guggisberg, a professor in the department of clinical neurosciences at the University of Geneva.

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/15/527106576/yawning-may-promote-social-bonding-even-between-dogs-and-humans

Pawsitively Tuesday – B.”E.E.” Yourself

 

“to be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day,

to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight,”

E.E. Cummings

 

 

Edward Estlin “E. E.” Cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He wrote approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays. Wikipedia

Cumming’s often-odd original typography has been retained.

Insomniacs Often Struggle to Get Past Emotional Distress

“Insomniacs tend to have a hard time getting past embarrassing mistakes, even when the stressful event occurred decades ago, according to a new study by researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.”

“The scientists asked participants to relive their most shameful experiences from decades ago while observing their brain activity with an MRI scan. They found that while good sleepers had settled those experiences in their head as neutralized memories, those with insomnia had not been able to do so.”

“The finding suggests that failure to neutralize emotional distress could be a major contributor to insomnia and may also help explain why insomnia is the primary risk factor for the development of disorders of mood, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.”*

“Researchers have established that sleep helps us to remember important experiences. But sleep is also necessary to get rid of the emotional distress that may have occurred during those experiences. Both these overnight processes involve changes in the connections between brain cells: some become stronger and consolidate memories, whereas others are weakened and get rid of unwanted associations.”

“Sayings like ‘sleeping on it’ to ‘get things off your mind’ reflect our nocturnal digestion of daytime experiences,” said doctoral student and first author Rick Wassing. “Brain research now shows that only good sleepers profit from sleep when it comes to shedding emotional tension. The process does not work well in people with insomnia. In fact, their restless nights can even make them feel worse.”

“The new findings support a previous study conducted by the same research group. In this study, published in the journal Sleep, the researchers asked participants to sing along to a song karaoke-style. Headphones prevented participants from hearing their own voice and finding the correct pitch. Their singing was recorded and played back for them later.”

“Many participants felt intense shame when listening to their own out-of-tune solo singing. But when good sleepers listened to their own singing again after getting a good night’s sleep, they didn’t feel that distressed about it anymore. They had released the distress from their minds. However, after a restless night, people with insomnia became even more upset about their embarrassing experience.”

“The new findings suggest that insomnia triggers may actually be found in brain circuits that regulate emotions, rather than in brain regions that regulate sleep, as previously believed. These emotion-regulating circuits contain risk genes for insomnia and may not activate properly, as they normally do, during rapid eye movement sleep.”

“Without the benefits of sound sleep, distressing events of decades ago continue to activate the emotional circuits of the brain as if they are happening right now. This suggests that people with insomnia may continue to be haunted by memories of past distress.”

*The findings are published in the scientific journal Brain.

https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/04/28/insomniacs-often-struggle-to-get-past-emotional-distress/144935.html