Confession: I suffer from CUTE AGGRESSION

It started when I was a child with my pet parakeet.  I wanted to squeeze him.  He was so cute, and warm and soft.  I didn’t squeeze, probably because he wouldn’t let me.  The impulse to squeeze subsided because my next pet was a turtle, which was not squeezable.  But my Cute Aggression had been unleashed and the urge returned with every mammal, human or otherwise.  (Cold blooded animals and insects unleash my aggression too but it is not cute.)

“Being Cute has it’s drawbacks .. .”

Cute aggression was first described in 2015 by researchers at Yale University. Researchers wanted to know what it looked like in the brain and recorded the electrical activity in the brains of 54 young adults as they looked at images of animals and people.

The images included both grown-ups and babies. Some had been manipulated to look less appealing. Others were made extra adorable, meaning “big cheeks, big eyes, small noses — all features we associate with cuteness.

The study found that for the entire group of participants, cuter creatures were associated with greater activity in brain areas involved in emotion. But the more cute aggression a person felt, the more activity the scientists saw in the brain’s reward system.

That suggests people who think about squishing puppies appear to be driven by two powerful forces in the brain: Both emotional and reward systems in the brain are involved in this experience of cute aggression.”

The combination can be overwhelming. And scientists suspect that’s why the brain starts producing aggressive thoughts. The idea is that the appearance of these negative emotions helps people get control of the positive ones running amok.

“It could possibly be that somehow these expressions help us to just sort of get it out and come down off that baby high a little faster,” says Oriana Aragón, an assistant professor at Clemson University who was part of the Yale team that gave cute aggression its name.

Aggressive thoughts in response to adorable creatures are just one example of “dimorphous expressions of positive emotion,” Aragón says.

“So people who, you know, want to pinch the babies cheeks and growl at the baby are also people who are more likely to cry at the wedding or cry when the baby’s born or have nervous laughter,” she says.

I’m sooo relieved to know  I have dimorphous expressions of positive emotion, sounds much less aggressive.

judy

 

 

 

 

“Spaced-out” Learning

“What we know about how memories are made at a neuroscience level is that it’s not just important to repeat a stimulus, but it is important to leave spaces in between,” . . . “There are changes that happen to the genes and proteins on a neuron that help fix the memory if there are spaces between learning something.”

The latest neuroscience shows students who took part in spaced learning, where lessons are broken up by activities such as juggling, improved their attainment.

Training teachers to break up lessons with 10 minute “distractions”, such as juggling or model making, has been found to significantly boost pupils’ learning, early research has shown.

“A study involving 2,000 pupils revealed that information is more easily learnt if it is delivered in intense 12-minute bursts and broken up by 10 minute periods of an unrelated activity. The project, called SMART Spaces, is based on the latest neuroscience, which shows that information is better absorbed and more easily recalled when it is repeated a number of times, but spaced out with distractions.”

Whoops . . . wrong “space”

Spaced learning

“In Sheffield England technique as part of their revision lessons ahead of students’ GCSEs. Pupils had an intense 12 minute Power Point lesson in chemistry, then juggled for 10 minutes. After that they had 12 minutes of physics before another 10 minutes of juggling. The lesson was then finished with 12 minutes of biology. This was then repeated over two more days. Other schools broke up their lessons with plasticine model making and games of Simon Says. Mr Gittner said the study led to some significant gains in learning, and there are plans to implement a full-scale randomised controlled trial involving up to 50 schools.”

“The idea for the project came after Monkseaton High School in Newcastle made headlines in 2009 for teaching its pupils to pass a GCSE after just three days of learning. They were able to pass a sixth of a GCSE in just 60 minutes. Distractions boost results Mr Gittner said such approaches were not to counteract shrinking attention spans, adding that the techniques were backed up by the latest developments in neuroscience.

“It fits with the generally accepted views that people can only really focus for 20 minutes, even adults. Students that took part in our trial were able to concentrate fully because they new in 15 minutes they were going to get to to juggle,” 

https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/education/juggling-lessons-boosts-learning/

For the latest Curious to the MAX post, click on this picture

 

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

It’s “that” time year – Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

We often believe that during holidays everyone, except us, is having a wonderful festive time, surrounded by loving family, caring friends, filled with fun, festivity and happiness.

At the risk of “bah humbug” what I most often heard from clients was holidays were filled with stress, trepidation, family feuds or deep pain at being alone while everyone else seemingly was partying.  

Coupled with studies which suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.* the United Kingdom study on loneliness and isolation of 6,500  had an interesting conclusion:

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. 

“The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.”

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.”

“To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.”

“And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”‘

‘”At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.”‘

“But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.”

Do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

“Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.”

‘”It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.”‘

‘”People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.”

*https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.cir.0000151424.02045.f7   (There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.)

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175283008/maybe-isolation-not-loneliness-shortens-life

Buying happiness: How to get the most bang for your buck

There’s a lot of press on the misery that comes from winning the lottery and a lot of research showing that having more money doesn’t make you happier (if you can afford necessities like food and shelter).  Along comes happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky who maintains that money CAN buy happiness. It turns out it is all in how you spend it. There is also a catch.

How money CAN make you happier*

1. Develop yourself; pay to get a new skill, or to master an old skill or ability.


2. Connect with others; celebrate achievements of friends and family or take some one on a trip.


3. Buy things that relate to mastery or goals; buy new musical instruments, sports gear or software to advance a project.

4. Donate to worthy causes

5. Buy time with your money; relieve yourself from long work hours or chores that consume your time.

 Here’s the catch:

Money spent on other people brings the most happiness. A study by Elizabeth Dunn and others at U of British Columbia found a bonus raised happiness to the degree it was spent on others.

Spending your money on OTHER PEOPLE instead of on yourself gets you the most happiness for the buck.

*“The Myths of Happiness”by Sonja Lyubomirsky

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It’s HOT . . . and chilli

Chillies come in many shapes, colours, sizes and strengths, but one thing they have in common is the burning sensation they cause in your mouth, eyes and any other part of your body into which their juices come into contact.

The hottest part of a chill isn’t its seeds, in fact it is the white spongy layer you find inside, called the placenta. Bite into this and you will really feel the burn.

  • That burning sensation is mainly caused by a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in tiny glands in the chilli’s placenta.
  • When you eat a chilli, the capsaicin is released into your saliva and then binds on to TRPV1 receptors in your mouth and tongue.
  • The receptors are actually there to detect the sensation of scalding heat.

Capsaicin makes your mouth feel as if it is on fire because the capsaicin molecule happens to fit the receptors perfectly.

When this happens it triggers these receptors, which send a signal to your brain, fooling it into thinking that your mouth is literally burning.

The Chili DOES NOT WANT TO BE EATEN

  • The reason wild chilli plants first started to produce capsaicin was to  protect themselves from being eaten by mammals like you.
  • From an evolutionary perspective the plant would much rather have its seeds dispersed by birds.
  • Oddly enough birds, unlike mammals like you, don’t have TRPV1 receptors, so they do not experience any burn.

Humans messed things up

  • Producing capsaicin was the ideal way to deter mammals from eating the plant while encouraging birds to do so.
  • Along came an ape with a giant frontal cortex who somehow learnt to love the burn.

Your body responds to a burst of severe pain by releasing adrenaline:

  • Eyes water
  • Pulse shoots up.
  • Heart beats faster
  • Pupils dilate.

If you can tolerate biting into some really hot chillies, it’s possible to have a “chili endorphin high” – Endorphins are natural opiates, painkillers which are sometimes released in response to the chilli’s sting. Like opiates they are said to induce a pervasive sense of happiness.

It is a form of thrill-seeking – feeding our brains’ desire for stimulation.

Beyond pain are there any health benefits to eating chillies?

In a recent study, researchers from the University of Vermont looked at data from more than 16,000 Americans who had filled in food questionnaires over an average of 18.9 years.

During that time nearly 5,000 of them had died. What they found was that was that those who ate a lot of red hot chillies were 13% less likely to die during that period than those who did not.

Researchers speculate that it could be that capsaicin is helping increase blood flow, or even altering the mix of your gut bacteria in a helpful direction.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-39217603

How to change your own neurochemistry to feel happier

There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you.  and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals. 

SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING

As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state.   Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.

DOPAMINE & MEDITATION

Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,

Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators.  The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.

No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications.  Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate. 

The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

 

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