Nudge theory

Ya gotta read this!

Richard Thaler and the economics of how we live

You could construct some powerful arguments about how an obesity epidemic is leading to more diseases such as Type II diabetes and coronary heart conditions.

You could put large red traffic light signs on unhealthy foods and engage in expensive public information campaigns warning that overeating products high in salt, sugar and fat can reduce life expectancy.

. . . Or you could just change where you put the salad boxes on the supermarket shelves.

“The last option is an example of nudge theory at work, a theory popularised and developed by Richard Thaler, the University of Chicago economist who is  a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics.”

Prof Thaler’s central insight is that we are not the rational beings beloved of more traditional economic theory.


“Given two options, we are likely to pick the wrong one even if that means making ourselves less well off.”

Lack of thinking time, habit and poor decision making mean that even when presented with a factual analysis (for example on healthy eating) we are still likely to pick burger and chips.

We’re hungry, we’re in a hurry and burger and chips is what we always buy.

Nudge theory takes account of this, based as it is on the simple premise that people will often choose what is easiest over what is wisest.

“Tests have shown that putting healthier foods on a higher shelf increases sales. The food is more likely to be in someone’s eye line and therefore “nudge” that person towards the purchase – whether they had any idea about the obesity argument or not.”

“Such theories, which sit in a big bucket of academic study called “behavioural economics”, are what Prof Thaler is famous for.   So famous that the government now has its own Behavioural Insights Team, otherwise known as the “nudge unit”.   It helps formulate policies, for example on pensions, to try and make us behave “more rationally” and push us towards better outcomes.”

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Shoppers will spend more on a credit or debit card in a food shop compared with cash

One of its projects revealed that charitable giving via your pay packet – called payroll giving – increased dramatically if people were told who else in their peer group were also giving via that method.

Attaching a picture of “mates giving money” also improved the level of charitable donations. We tend to like doing what our friends like doing – called the peer group norm.

“Mental Accounting”

“Prof Thaler also gave us the concept of “mental accounting” – that we will tend to divide our expenditure into separate blocks even though they come from the same source.”

For example, we will spend more on a credit or debit card in a food shop compared with cash even though all the money ultimately comes from our earnings.

“Then there is his work on the “planner-doer” syndrome – that we lack self-control, will act in our own short-term self-interest and need extra incentives to plan long term than simply being told that, rationally, it is good idea.”

How many times do we let that gym membership lapse, despite our best intentions?

“Having just received news of the award, Prof Thaler told me that his job was to “add human beings” to economic theory.”

“And today he has been rewarded, both via the recognition of the Nobel Prize and by the not inconsiderable sum of £845,000 in prize money.”

Asked how he would spend the money Prof Thaler gave a succinct answer.


‘Nudge’ economist Richard Thaler wins Nobel Prize

Doing this will make you as happy as receiving $25,000 (the verdict is out if more than a million dollars)

Neuroscience says doing this one thing makes you as happy as receiving $25,000

“The scientific study of happiness, also known as positive psychology, has given us a lot of useful insights in the last couple of decades. One of these insights is a study that showed that by doing just one thing, you would make yourself as happy as eating 2,000 bars of chocolate; and, more crucially, make yourself as happy as receiving $25,000.”

And what is that thing? Smiling.


“In a study in the U.K. scientists used many stimuli to see how happy they made participants feel. The researchers made participants do, see or hear different stimuli and using electromagnetic brain scans and heart-rate monitors, measured their ‘mood-boosting values.’ Interestingly, smiling trumped all of the other stimuli. It has long been established that smiling makes you feel good regardless of how you feel in the moment.”

“In 2009, using fMRI, scientist at Echnische Universität demonstrated that smiling activates your feel-good circuitry. Additionally smiling has some impressive correlations. For example, it has been associated with longevity. In 2010, Wayne State University researchers observed baseball cards from 1952 and measured the smile span of players. Those who were not smiling lived for an average of 72.9 years. However, the beaming players lived an average of seven years longer.”

“Similarly, a 30-year longitudinal study from UC Berkeley was able to use smile width from an old year book photo as predictor of a number of things: those who smiled had happier marriages, scored higher on measures of well-being and happiness. Smiles also predicted how inspiring others found them. Also, research has shown that we look more competent when we smile. We are perceived as more attractive, more likeable and more courteous. While commenting on this set of studies for, Melanie Curtin gave some interesting statistics that are likely to draw your attention to your own smile”:


“Want to know where you stack up when it comes to smiling? “

  • Under 14% of us smile fewer than 5 times a day (you probably don’t want to be in that group).
  • Over 30% of us smile over 20 times a day.
  • And there’s one population that absolutely dominates in the smile game, clocking in at as many as 400 smiles a day: children.”

So what? What does this mean? If smiling makes us happy, what do we get from being happy? Does happiness even matter?

“In another column on the scientific study of happiness entitled “5 studies on happiness and why you should get a pencil“ I said it does. ‘Some years ago,’ I wrote, ‘Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California and colleagues set themselves the daunting task of reviewing hundreds of experiments on the effects of happiness. ‘In his book, “59 Seconds,” Richard Wiseman reported the results of that study: ‘“After trawling the data from hundreds of studies involving more than a quarter of a million participants, Lyubomirsky discovered impressive benefits to being happy. Happiness makes people:

  • More sociable and altruistic
  • Increases how much they like themselves and others
  • Improves their ability to resolve conflict
  • Strengthens their immune systems
  • Have more satisfying and successful relationships,
  • Find more fulfilling careers
  • Live longer, healthier lives.”’

Can we actually make ourselves happy? Or are people born happy?

“You can answer that question with three percentages: 50%, 10% and 40%. Again regarding the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues, Wiseman wrote in “59 Seconds,”: “The bad news is that research shows that about 50% of your overall sense of happiness is genetically determined, and so cannot be altered. The better news is that another 10 percent is attributable to general circumstances (educational level, income, whether you are married or single, etc.) that are difficult to change.”

“However, the best news is that the remaining 40 percent is derived from your day-to-day behavior and the way you think about yourself and others. With a little knowledge, you can become substantially happier in just a few seconds.” A part of that knowledge is that smiling does not only make you happy, but it also makes you like yourself, it makes others like you; it may notch you a fulfilling marriage, a longer life and give people the perception that you’re competent. But wait, there is more.

To help you increase your happiness, we wrote a book-available on Kindle-click here to preview: “Hack Your Way Happiness: How to Feel Happier Every Day, Based on Neuroscience.” 

Let’s give the last word on smiling to a leader whose companions said “whenever we looked at his face, he was smiling.” And what did that leader say?

“Even a smile is charity,” Prophet Muhammad  said. Which means that a smile does not only earn you worldly benefits but will also get you the hereafter.

By Ibraheem Dooba |

Read more:

How can the answer be “yes” and “no”?

The question is: does your brain learn well under stress? The answer is “yes”. And the answer is “no”. How can that be? Here is what  Henning Beck, author of “Scatterbrain: How the Mind’s Mistakes Make Humans Creative, Innovative and Successful” has to say:

Under stress the brain learns well for anything related to the stress, but learns poorly about anything not related to the stress.


Under acute stress noradrenaline is released and increases attention, and cortisol is released which which decreases distracting background “noise” . Theses two things let us focus and we can learn well and quickly. So the answer is YES.

Also, anything that is not related to the stress, the background noise,  is suppressed. Learning math when you are stressed about your health is much harder. So the answer is NO.

During these last years stressors, obvious and hidden, surround the world.  Isolation adds to the stress. 


Try FOREST BATHING to reduce stress

The idea is to go slow and let yourself take in nature – the sights, smells and sounds of the forest – notice things you might ordinarily miss.  It’s a meditation which helps clear your brain, and see your surroundings with fresh eyes. 

The practice began in Japan. Back in the early 1990s the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku — which translates roughly as forest bathing.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that the practice can help boost immunity and mood and help reduce stress. “Medical researchers in Japan have studied forest bathing and have demonstrated several benefits to our health.”

One study published in 2011 compared the effects of walking in the city to taking a forest walk. Both activities required the same amount of physical activity, but researchers found that the forest environment led to more significant reductions in blood pressure and certain stress hormones. Read the full article and click HERE

Neuroscience of Racism

Can brain science help to understand one of society’s most complex problems?   Racism is a major societal problem in the U.S. and many other countries around the world.

Why some people would perpetrate crimes against other human beings just because they belong to a different ethnic group? Can brain science help provide an answer? Here are the main insights from a review article (Molenberghs, 2013) that tackled exactly this question.

1. How we categorize others

“From a theoretical perspective, racism is one aspect of a larger psychological phenomenon called in-group bias. Our brains have developed to adapt to complex social situations. Discriminating whether someone belongs to the same or a different group could be vital in order to behave correctly in some situations, such as during battle.”

“The same psychological mechanism can, however, lead to highly problematic behaviors. Everyone belongs to many different groups in their life.  For examples, n-group bias can be observed between:

  • fans of different sports teams
  • supporters of different political parties
  • students from different competing universities.


Which categories?

“In-group bias is highly dependent on context. Someone can show a bias against another person in one situation (e.g., during a football game when the two people support competing teams), but categorize them as belonging to the same group in another context (e.g., when engaged in a political discussion and realizing that their views align). This demonstrates how arbitrary and meaningless these categorizations often are.”

“Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex is particularly involved in social categorization. This brain area has also been found to be activated in studies in which participants were asked to think about their own personal attributes. This indicates that there is a relatively close association between thinking about ourselves and thinking about the social group(s) we belong to. This makes a lot of sense, as people also identify as members of the groups they belong to “

2. How we perceive the actions of others

“One important insight from psychological research is that people can perceive the same action very differently if it is conducted by a member of the same group or a member of a different group. In one empirical study by the author of the review article, participants were arbitrarily divided into two teams (Molenberghs et al., 2013) and watched videos of individuals from their own team and the competing team performing hand actions. Participants had to judge the speed of these hand movements and on average rated their own teams to be faster, even though the hand movements in the videos were performed at exactly the same speed.”

“In an additional functional magnetic resonance imaging study with the same task, the scientists found that participants who indicated a strong difference between the two groups showed an increase of activity in the inferior parietal lobule — a brain area that coordinates perception and action — when watching the videos, but not in subsequent decision making when rating the clips. These findings suggest that in-group bias already occurs very early in perception, not only when making a conscious decision about how to act.”

3. How we feel empathy towards somebody else

“One of the neuroscientific key findings about racism is that on average people express less empathy towards other people who do not belong to their own group. Empathy describes the ability to understand what somebody else might think or feel and to act in an appropriate manner. For example, one study found that ethnic group membership can modulate the neural responses associated with empathy (Xu et al., 2009). Here, the authors used functional magnetic imaging to record brain activation in White and Chinese participants while they were watching video clips of White and Chinese faces being either touched with a Q-tip (non-painful) or poked by a syringe (painful).”

“The scientists showed that both White and Chinese participants showed increased activation in the anterior cingulate cortex and the inferior frontal cortex when watching a video clip in which a person of their own ethnic group was experiencing pain. These brain areas have previously been shown to be activated when someone experiences pain themselves. Thus, the same brain areas that mediate the first person pain experience are also involved in feeling empathy towards somebody else experiencing pain. Importantly, the scientists found that this empathic brain response was significantly decreased when the participants viewed faces of individuals from other ethnic groups experiencing pain. Thus, in-group bias affects how much someone feels the pain of somebody else, which might contribute to why racist individuals would have less of a problem hurting somebody belonging to a different ethnic group than somebody who belongs to their own ethnic group.”

4. How we perceive faces

“Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies on the perception of faces with different ethnic backgrounds imply that both subconscious and conscious processes are involved in perceiving faces of people with different ethnic backgrounds differently than faces of people with the same ethnic background. For example, one study (Cunningham et al., 2004) presented pictures of African American and White faces to White participants while their brain activity was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging. When the faces were presented so briefly that they could not be processed consciously, the participants showed greater activation in the amygdala for African American compared to White faces. The amygdala is a brain region that plays a key role in emotion processing, including fear, anxiety, and aggression.”

“However, when the faces were presented much longer so that the participants could actually perceive them consciously, these differences disappeared. Instead, several brain regions in the frontal cortex that are involved in cognitive control and emotion regulation showed more activation when the White participants viewed African American faces. These findings suggest that there are at least two neural pathways when it comes to processing faces of individuals from a different ethnic group. On the one hand, there are quick and subconscious processes that engage brain areas involved in processing emotions. This early pathway is modulated by a later, conscious pathway that represents top-down regulation of feelings based on what is acceptable in society and what the individual has learned previously.”

“The findings in the review article by Molenberghs (2013) make one thing clear: Racism is a highly complex problem, not only on the societal level but also in the brain. There is no single brain area involved in racism. Instead, a complex network of brain regions involved in social categorization, self-perception, empathy, pain, and face perception is involved in racism and other forms of in-group bias and out-group discrimination.”

“The existence of this network and its sometimes automatic and subconscious activation is probably rooted in our ancient past when fast and correct identification of in-group and out-group members could be a matter of survival (e.g., in conflicts between different groups of prehistoric humans). Like many phenomena in evolutionary psychology, however, these processes could lead to problems in today’s society because conditions today are very different from the prehistoric conditions that shaped our brain structure.”


Different, yet alike.

“One important message from the study by Cunningham et al., (2004) is that the fast and subconscious processes that lead to a potentially negative emotional reaction to faces of people belonging to a different ethnic group can be regulated by later conscious control processes. This implies that it is of prime importance to educate individuals that racism is not acceptable, in order to strengthen the cognitive control of potential racist thoughts and to prevent racist behavior.”

Sebastian Ocklenburg, Ph.D.
The Asymmetric Brain

Reminder of what you already know but may not do

Even for many of the millions of Americans who haven’t contracted COVID-19, the past year could have profoundly negative health consequences for years to come. According to a survey of nearly 1,000 doctors conducted by American Academy of Family Physicians, more than 60% of doctors reported an increase in obesity among their patients. Additionally, a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 61% of all adults polled reported gaining weight since March 2020.

Horrifying Long-Term Side Effects of Not Exercising


“Ninety-eight per cent of my day is, ‘You haven’t been exercising, you’ve gained weight, and your diabetes is no longer controlled. We need to help you with that,'” Andrew Carroll, MD, an Arizona-based doctor, recently explained to The Guardian. “It’s very rare I’m reducing medications over the last year.”

“It’s no surprise that the last year has been something of an anti-fitness perfect storm. Gyms have closed, workout options have narrowed considerably, important daily exercises we took for granted have been limited (such as commuting and running errands), and perhaps the only thing higher than our collective stress levels are the sales of comfort foods and alcohol.”

“If you’ve adopted a newly sedentary lifestyle in the wake of the events of the last year—and if you’re struggling to find your way back to a healthy, active lifestyle—know that you don’t have to meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‘ guidelines of 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week starting immediately.”


Start small, and remember that simply walking for 20 minutes can do wonders for your body. If you’re capable of performing intense exercises, one new study found that you can enjoy the benefits of exercise by working out for only 12 minutes in a week.

“After all, leading a life lacking in physical activity won’t do your body any favors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a sedentary lifestyle is one of the four pillars associated with avoidable chronic disease, alongside a poor diet, smoking, and too much drinking. The CDC also notes that the lack of exercise is associated with “an estimated $117 billion” in healthcare costs every year.”

But that’s not all. Read on for the truly horrifying and long-term side effects associate with a lack of exercise, according to some of the nation’s top doctors.

You’ll Be at Greater Risk of Heart Disease

“Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease—even for people who have no other risk factors,” write the experts at the CDC. “It can also increase the likelihood of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol.”

You’ll Be at Greater Risk of Type-2 Diabetes

“Not getting enough physical activity can raise a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” says the CDC. “Physical activity helps control blood sugar (glucose), weight, and blood pressure and helps raise ‘good’ cholesterol and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol. Adequate physical activity can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage, which are often problems for people with diabetes.”

You’ll Be at Greater Risk of Getting Several Cancers

“Getting the recommended amount of physical activity can lower the risk of many cancers, including cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, uterus, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach,” says the CDC. “These effects apply regardless of weight status.

Here’s How to Take Action

The experts at the CDC offer several tips for getting more movement into your daily life. Among them:

  • Look for any way to reduce your sitting time (“for example, instead of watching TV, take a walk after dinner”),
  • Stick with activities you actually enjoy (“you might like morning walks in your neighborhood; others might prefer an online class after work”), and
  • remind yourself that you can “break up” the guideline recommendations for 150 minutes of weekly exercise into “25 minutes a day every day.”

And for more reasons to get moving, see What Happens to Your Body When You Sit Too Much Every Day, Says Science.

What People Get Wrong About Living With Both Anxiety And Depression

Take a look at what therapists explain about 11 myths surrounding what it’s like to have both anxiety and depression at the same time.

“Over 18 million Americans live with depression in any given year, and anxiety affects almost 40% of Americans. Occurrences of both of these individual mental health conditions are also on the rise ― so it’s no surprise that there are tons of people who also experience them simultaneously.”

“Many people are familiar with depression and anxiety on their own, but the challenges of dealing with them at the same time are less understood by those who don’t directly live with them. That can lead to a lot of misconceptions.”

A person can have anxiety and depression at the same time, which can lead to many debilitating symptoms like lethargy, rumination, panic and more.

sweating it

1.  Myth: Anxiety and depression are completely unique disorders.
“Sarah Johnson, medical director at Landmark Outpatient Services, a mental health clinic in Louisville, Kentucky, said that anxiety and depression are “two sides of the same coin.” In other words, they both affect the same region of the brain (the amygdala, hippocampus and frontal cortex). Therefore, one can trigger the other.”

“Anxiety may occur as a symptom of clinical depression. On the other hand, it’s also possible to have depression that’s triggered by an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or separation anxiety disorder,” she said.

2.  Myth: Both conditions are rare.
While it may feel at times like you are the only person in the world experiencing anxiety and/or depression, the reality is that many people are dealing with it too. Nearly 29% of people in the U.S. will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder in their lifetime and 20.8% for a mood disorder like depression, according to Luana Marques, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.”

“If it is sometimes difficult for you to talk to family or friends about your experiences with anxiety and depression, consider talking to other people who are having similar experiences,” she said, noting that you can find support groups for people with anxiety and depression at the ADAA website.”


3.  Myth: There is something wrong with you.
“I think the most common misconception about depression and anxiety is that there’s something wrong with the person, as if suffering isn’t a normal human emotion,” said Calum Hughes, CEO of Allied Corp, a research and development company focused on developing therapeutic solutions for those living with PTSD.”

“He highlighted the popular misconception that people with mental illness are “weak or can’t exist in normal society” and noted that mental health issues should be embraced just like any other medical issue.”

“You rarely hear of a stigma around people who have health conditions like diabetes; there shouldn’t be a stigma around depression and anxiety. They are real medical conditions that are treatable,” Hughes said.”

4.  Myth: You shouldn’t ask questions if someone tells you they have anxiety and depression.
“After I tell people I suffer with both, the conversation often ends there because they feel like they’re not supposed to ask questions out of fear of triggering me or making me uncomfortable ― or maybe they’re uncomfortable,” explained Chelsea Giacobbe, a Hoboken, New Jersey-based consultant with anxiety and depression.”

Giacobbe prefers that people inquire about her condition and ask her questions as opposed to tiptoeing around it.

“If I tell you I suffer from both, then I’m open to talking about it and answering any questions you have,” she said. “And you never know if something I say will help someone else in need that you encounter, or help you realize there is someone in your life crying for help without vocalizing it or even knowing it.”

5.  Myth: The only way to deal with the conditions is to power through them.
People often think that the best way of dealing with anxiety and depression is to just power through it or “fake it until you make it.” But that’s not always the case.

“Amanda Stemen, a licensed therapist and owner of Fundamental Growth, a therapy, coaching, and consulting business in Los Angeles, stressed that it’s OK to feel the poor moods that come with the conditions. In fact, not allowing yourself to process negative emotions can often do more harm than good, she said.”

“It’s often when we don’t allow ourselves to feel the physical sensations that come along with that, when we push them away, that it becomes something bigger,” she said.

“Stemen suggested setting a timer for two minutes, experiencing the feelings, and noticing how they shift and change the next time you’re dealing with mood-related symptoms.”

“While it’s scary to feel uncomfortable emotions because we’re afraid we’ll get stuck there forever, it’s actually avoiding our feelings that contributes greatly to depression and anxiety ― so feel the heck out of them,” she said.

6.  Myth: Everyone with anxiety and depression experiences the same symptoms.
Anxiety and depression are umbrella terms that encompass a wide range of experiences.

“For some people, anxiety can look like worrying a lot about the future … for other people it might look like having unexpected panic attacks weekly … and for other people it might look like fear of specific things,” Marquest said.

Depression can also present as a wide range of symptoms.

“One person with depression might sleep all the time, have no energy and experience low mood, while another person with depression might feel irritable, experience appetite changes, and lose interest in activities they used to enjoy,” she said.


7.  Myth: You always know if you have anxiety and depression.
“It seems absurd that someone won’t know they are feeling so afraid they suffer anxiety or so down they are depressed, or a mixture of both. But often anxiety and depression show up as symptoms we might not consider to be anxiety or depression at all,” said Winfried Sedhoff, a family physician specializing in treating mental illness in Brisbane, Australia.”

“He added that many of his patients don’t go in to get an official diagnosis until they start to experience physical symptoms of the conditions such as “regularly struggling to get to sleep, excessive worrying, chest pains, dizziness, feeling tired, and feeling washed out all the time without any apparent physical cause.”

“Many clients I have seen have been thoroughly investigated over months or even years for many physical symptoms that were ultimately typical symptoms of anxiety and depression,” he added.

8.  Myth: It’s something people can just “get over.”
Again, depression and anxiety are considered medical issues. Sometimes that requires treatment, care and time.

“Whether you’re taking medication or seeing a therapist, treatment for anxiety and depression is not a quick fix,” said Emily Guarnotta, a licensed psychologist in New York that specializes in anxiety, depression and postpartum issues.”

“She added that successful treatment of simultaneous conditions involves changing long-standing thought patterns, beliefs and emotions and reconstructing new ones. All of this, of course, takes time. According to the American Psychological Association, half of therapy patients notice some improvements after 15 to 20 sessions, though some people take longer.”

“It’s important to remain patient with the process and let go of any judgments about how long it should take to recover,” Guarnotta said.

9.  Myth: Anxiety and depression are just genetic.
Rob Scheidlinger, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westlake Village, California, said that it’s largely a myth that depression and anxiety run in families and therefore most people who suffer are predisposed genetically.

“While there is some evidence that there are a few causes of these disorders that are genetically carried, an overwhelming amount of current research states that most of the causal factors are environmental and situational,” he explained.”

10.  Myth: People saying they have both conditions are just being dramatic.
“Cheryl Poldrugach, founder and CEO of Panic Aide in Dallas, Texas, said she’s been called dramatic a lot when talking about her anxiety and depression.”

“For those of us who truly suffer, it is life-altering. We lie to friends and family as to why we can’t go somewhere, lose friends for not showing up, lose jobs, miss school, etc.” she said, adding that anxiety and depression are a lethal mix and not to be taken lightly or prodded. “It is real.”

“Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, California, said that those who suffer from anxiety and depression are generally far from dramatic.”

“In fact, my clients often suffer from embarrassment due to their mental health status and the often-uncontrollable nature of their symptoms,” she said. “Although some of the symptoms may appear to be melodramatic in nature to bystanders, there is no joy or attention-getting benefit in a dual diagnosis of anxiety and depression.”

11.  Myth: These conditions will go away on their own.
Depression and anxiety can both be serious medical issues. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help for your mental health.

“Feeling depressed or anxious is a signal to your brain from your body that there is something going on inside that needs to be dealt with,” said Meredith Sagan, chief psychiatrist at Alo House Recovery Center in Malibu, California.”

“Whether you’re going through some massive changes, dealing with trauma or just handling more in your life than usual, “feeling depressed or anxious is always a signal that an action step is required to handle it successfully,” she said. Professional support can help with that.”

International Day of Happiness

Did you realize the Declaration of Independence doesn’t recognize happiness as a right, but rather the pursuit of happiness.

“March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, the result of a UN resolution adopted in 2012 that identifies the pursuit of happiness as “a fundamental human goal” and promotes a more holistic approach to public policy and economic growth — one that recognizes happiness and wellbeing as important pieces of sustainable and equitable development.

The official page for the International Day of Happiness,, goes one step further in declaring happiness a “universal human right.”

Is happiness really a human right? And is happiness a goal we should actively pursue? Maybe the answers are “no” and “it depends.”


by Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley

“First, consider the analogy between psychological wellbeing — including happiness — and physical wellbeing, or health. The World Health Organization endorses a “right to health,” but the details make it clear that it isn’t health, per se, that is a right, but rather the means to achieve the best health possible. The WHO constitution recognizes “…the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being,” with the right to health including “access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality.”

“So it may be that the best way to understand a “right to happiness” is as a right to pursue happiness. Happiness just doesn’t seem like the right sort of thing to proclaim as a right in itself.”

“The trouble is that a right to the pursuit of happiness may be counterproductive. For most Americans, actively pursuing happiness isn’t a reliable route to attaining it.”

“Studies conducted in the U.S. have consistently found that actively seeking happiness can backfire: Those who strongly value and pursue happiness are more likely to feel disappointed about their own feelings, to report loneliness, and to have depressive symptoms. One reason for these negative effects is that in many Western cultures, happiness is conceptualized in individualistic terms — as a personal pursuit that leads to personal achievements. Actively pursuing happiness (so defined) can thus decrease social connection, which is one of the best predictors of a person’s wellbeing.”

“These findings suggest that, at least in the United States, promoting a right to pursue happiness could lead to behaviors and outcomes that are quite distinct from those that support happiness itself. Put more strongly, supporting people in actively pursuing happiness could actually prevent people from achieving happiness. And it is presumably the latter — the actual achievement of happiness — that the UN resolution aims to recognize and support.”

“In light of this research, a right to the pursuit of happiness may seem deeply misguided — a right we should simply abandon. Instead of a right to pursue happiness, we should endorse a right to the conditions that successfully foster happiness. Or, to borrow the WHO’s formulation regarding health, we should endorse a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health and wellbeing.”

“But here’s another thought: Maybe the problem isn’t with the pursuit of happiness, but with how we conceptualize happiness itself. When it comes to defining happiness, perhaps there’s another way — a better way. Cross-cultural research suggests that there is.”

“In a paper published in 2015, psychologist Brett Ford and her colleagues found that the negative association between pursuing happiness and achieving happiness isn’t cross-culturally universal. In the U.S., they found the previously reported link between pursuing happiness and failing to achieve it. But in Germany, there was no reliable association between the strength of individuals’ motivation to pursue happiness and their actual wellbeing. And in Russia, Japan, and Taiwan, the association was positive: Those who were more motivated to pursue happiness also reported greater wellbeing.”

“The researchers hypothesized that these cross-cultural differences were driven by differing conceptions of happiness itself. They expected — and found support for — the idea that in more collectivist cultures, happiness is more likely to be defined in terms of social engagement, including pro-social behaviors (such as seeing to other people’s wellbeing) and social relationships (such as being surrounded by caring family and friends). For those with a socially-engaged definition of happiness, pursuing happiness presumably supported the kinds of social connections that are known to foster wellbeing, reversing the negative pattern observed in the U.S.”


“If these ideas are right, then the effects of pursuing happiness crucially depend on one’s notion of happiness itself. Promoting a right to the pursuit of happiness could yield positive consequences when happiness is understood in social terms. But with the more individualistic definition prevalent in the U.S., promoting the active pursuit of happiness could lead to less happiness, not to more.”

“More likely than not, the UN’s original advocates for the International Day of Happiness had a broad and community-oriented notion of happiness in mind — not the more narrowly individualistic one that many Americans seem to posses. For instance, the resolution itself doesn’t simply call for more personal wellbeing, but for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.”

“In celebrating the International Day of Happiness, then, we might do well to examine rather than reaffirm our tacit assumptions about happiness and its pursuit. And we might do well to join the UN’s resolution in aspiring to the wellbeing of all peoples, not only to our own happiness as individuals.”

Willpower NOT required to Break Nearly Any Bad Habit – Neuroscience (and a Tiny Dose of Emotional Intelligence)

This article is for me! I have proven to myself will power doesn’t work when it comes to getting my dopamine rush from carbs and sugar. I need WON’T Power. (judy)

Research shows that approximately 40 percent of the things we do on a daily basis aren’t decision-based.  They’re mostly habits.

This doesn’t, at first glance, make sense. “We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals,” says Dr. Wendy Wood, the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits.  “We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response.”

The way our brains are made often works against us. 

 “I’ll put ice cream on my breakfast oatmeal instead of milk”, I think, remembering the carton in the freezer.

  • My prefrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for planning, decision making, and supporting goal-oriented behaviors — answers, “Nope. Too much sugar, eat healthy – sprinkle walnuts on top of the oatmeal, they are healthy.” 
  • My orbitofrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for emotion and reward in decision-making, answers, “Forget oatmeal, sprinkle walnuts on the ice cream and eat it from the carton.”headless-girl1

My prefrontal cortex is a logical and rational, but she’s shy, quiet and subdued. My orbitofrontal cortex is decisive, persistent, insistent, and loves to get her way and doesn’t care if it’s a bad or good habit as long as it’s tasty.

In neuroscientific terms, “When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire – and typically we’re aware of our intentions. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can’t easily explain how we do our habits or why we do them… our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible,” Dr. Wood explains.

In other words, my orbitofrontal cortex can quickly establish bad habits. I’ll do things reflexively, almost without thinking.  Even if I do manage to think my orbitofrontal cortex and the force of habit will be louder

As Dr. Wood says, “Habits allow us to focus on other things. Willpower is a limited resource, and when it runs out, you fall back on habits.”  

How do you break that cycle?

Dr Wood says you have to force yourself to think: Not before, but during.

scan-6Just how good are these cookies????

I eat the ice cream — because that requires willpower I clearly don’t have — but while I’m  eating the ice cream.  (Dr Wood may have been a researcher too long and oblivious to real world.)  

The key is to reflect upon the actual benefits derived from a habit.  One upside, lots of downsides.

Repeat, repeat, repeat the process, because one period of reflection and introspection won’t be enough.

I’ll  have to do it several times  before my orbitofrontal cortex adopts the rewards and emotions involved in not feeling bad about eating ice cream.

Then those two voices will speak in unison. My prefrontal cortex will share all the long-term benefits of eating healthy. My orbitofrontal cortex will chime in with reasons why skipping the ice cream will make me feel better in the moment.  In emotional intelligence terms, emotions will work for me, not against me.

And that’s how, she says, the habit gets broken.

Willpower not required.

Dr. Wendy Wood, the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits

12 Ways to help you (and me) make changes

The pandemic has shown us, on a massive scale, how difficult it can be to make changes. When we want to change our behavior, it can be difficult, after all, there was usually a good reason, a positive coping mechanism, that led to the behaviors and  habits we have now. But as we solve one issue with a habit,  or as our situation changes, we may find that what we are doing is not in our best interest.  I set out to learn what makes change easier. Kathy Milkman had some answers. Here are 12 of them.


1.  Pick a special day to start

Pick a meaningful date to start the change that you want – That’s why New Years or Mondays are often picked for change kick-starters.  To make it more memorable be creative:  Your dog’s birthday, April Fool’s Day, the first full moon! 

During the pandemic, a became more lackadaisical about housecleaning, especially the kitchen. I’ll mop “tomorrow” or as soon as my shoes stick to the floor . . . I picked the second Thursday of the month to clean, even if it’s not dirty. I live alone and a month of dust seems reasonable.


2.  Make the change fun or entertaining

There’s more than one way to exercise, learn to salsa, join a soccer team, march while playing the flute. Instead of weights – lift cans of popcorn or hoe a garden.   Even if it takes a bit more effort or time, you are making a long term change, so make it as fun, pleasant, easy and likely to be actually done. 

Did I mention I hate doing housework?  I bought some “tool-toys” – a scrub brush that rotates and a sponge with a happy face.  Admittedly, watching someone else clean would be more entertaining.


Green beans a la mode:

3. Pair the new activity, with something you like.

If you limit the paired activity to when you are doing the new activity you want to have, it makes it even stronger. Say you love romance novels. Reading them on the treadmill makes exercise more enticing.  

What works best for me  is to pair housework with music. I dance as I scrub with my rotating brush and clean the kitchen with my happy face sponge. Pairing cleaning with dance and my trusty tool-toys is sometimes even fun . . . sometimes.


4. Turn it into a game, with an opponent and scoring system.

Make it a game, set small goals and create gaming features such as  scoring points, symbolic rewards, enemies, obstacles to overcome, allies who help you. You can also compete with yourself. Click here for more on turning a goal into a  game: our post “The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life”

I cleaned the kitchen in 30 minutes, next time I will try for 20.  I’m thinking if I only eat take-out I can get my time down to 3 minutes and a gold metal.  SCORE!


5. Identify obstacles you are likely to encounter and pre-plan to work around them.

Identify what might stop you from making the change that you want.  It’s easy to INTEND to change  but things come up that get in our way.  Thinking ahead about possible obstacles or temptations helps plan around them.

Did I mention I REALLY dislike to do housework?  Well I do.  One of the obstacles I have identified is playing Sudoku on my computer instead of cleaning.   I’ve decided I won’t recharge any of my electronic devices, as I usually do, the night before my 2nd Thursday of the month cleaning day.  I wonder if there are paperback Sudoku books . . .


6. Make it flexible, to stay on track if time or place changes

Create a flexible schedule for your new activity to develop a more robust habit.  Plan on strategies for possible location or time changes so you can sustain your new behavior when important events come up.

If something IMPORTANT comes up on my the 2nd Thursday of the month cleaning day I still need to clean so I don’t get ptomaine poisoning.  I hereby designate the 3rd Wednesday of the month as my alternate cleaning day (thought I’d shake it up with a Wednesday . . . ).


7.  Track your progress 

Keep track of your progress. Tracking lets you know when you did well, so you can feel good, it helps avoid forgetting, and you notice if you did not do well. A miss here and there is not a problem, (several in a row might be). 

I’m tracking my cleaning on a calendar that I made for Zazzle.  So far it’s working because I am pairing the pride I feel about making the calendar with the pride of sticking to a  2nd Thursday cleaning schedule. See #3!  Click here for my calendar.


8. Link a new habit to a habit you already have.

 Link a new habit to an old habit. . . such as adding flossing to teeth brushing, or adding some fruit to your morning coffee routine. This will make the change easier to remember and easier to become a habit.

Since I’m in the habit of eating every day . . . maybe I’ll clean the kitchen before I sit down to eat instead of waiting till my shoes stick to the floor.


9. Expect to fail some of the time.

If you expect to make the change perfectly and then go off your diet or forget to floss, you will think you can’t change, and give up. Failing or missteps are part of the process. Even scientists who literally “shoot for the moon”  with rockets have to make corrections along the way.

I expect to become a world class Sudoku player and expect it will be at the expense of a clean house.


10. Set mini goals.

Set mini goals. Start with one small step that you can see yourself doing—and then continue  to add  more small goals. When I started hiking for exercise, I would give myself a goal:  I will hike 10 minutes out, 10 minutes back. If  I thought I could do more, I could go a little further, or add more time to my goal next time I hiked.

Not sure this will work with cleaning my house because I like to hike.  Maybe 10 minutes of cleaning and 10 minutes of Sudoku . . . 


11. Copy others who do what you want to do.

“Copy and paste” the ideas and methods of other people  who have made the changes you want to make.  Identify the specific ideas they use and the ones that fit your lifestyle and try them out.

I googled Oprah because she owns several houses.  She must hate housecleaning too because I could not find it on her annual list of “favorite things”.   


12.  Reward Yourself

Give yourself rewards. Even symbolic rewards like the gold stars stickers teachers give kids have power. You can also save treats, like watching TV or something good to eat.

Now that I’ve salsa danced while scrubbing the tile with my rotating brush, linked cleaning with breakfast, lunch and dinner, tracked my progress on my calendar, I think I will reward myself with a cleaning crew and of course calendar them in for the 2nd Thursday of every month. 

Here is to making change fun!


Adapted from “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Katy Milkman

We thank YOU for reading this newsletter on gratitude!

I discovered Andrew Huberman, awhile ago because of my insatiable interest in all things about the brain.  Huberman is a Stanford University professor in the Department of Neurobiology and has a few more credential than either Judy or I have.  It is, however, gratifying to know that Dr Huberman agrees with our research on gratitude. (Peggy) Take a look:

“While much has been said before about the science of gratitude and its benefits, most of what I see “out there” is not accurate according to what the science shows. What is clear is that specific gratitude practices can be immensely beneficial for us. For example, an effective gratitude practice can:

  1. Reduce the activation of fear and anxiety circuits in the brain and body.
  2. Improve mood, focus and sleep.
  3. Reduce biomarkers of inflammation. (When combined with tools for enhancing social bonding, the positive effects are even greater.)

For these reasons, and because the holidays and New Year are upon us and have us navigating social interactions, I have assembled a list of five steps to enhance the quality of connection with yourself and others during the holidays and the new year.”


“That’s right. Get thanks. Neuroimaging, EEG (brain electrical recording) and psychology studies show that the positive effects of a gratitude practice primarily occur when we receive, not when we give, gratitude. Of course, for that to happen, someone has to give gratitude, but merely writing out gratitude lists or counting our blessings—while useful, pale in comparison to receiving gratitude. Thus, give gratitude and encourage those receiving it to really hear you. Hopefully, someone in your life (perhaps many people) will genuinely thank you too.”


“In the science of gratitude podcast episode, I discussed a study showing that the genuine intention of the gratitude giver (the thanker), has a direct impact on the degree of positive effect felt by the person receiving the gratitude (the thankee). So give thanks, but do so with honesty. It matters.”



“Neuroimaging studies from Antonio Damasio‘s Lab show that observing or hearing the stories of others receiving help (or thanks) activates pro-social circuits that improve our mood and other health metrics. We are wired for social interactions and are wired to gauge the emotional state of others. Hence, billions of viral Instagram and Twitter posts of people helping each other, people helping dogs or other animals stuck in drainage ditches, even dogs helping people stuck in drainage ditches, etc. It’s not by chance these posts are so popular. As the psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, says: we regulate each other’s nervous systems. Having a story you can recall in which someone received genuine gratitude is beneficial. Recall that story 1-3 times per week. Once it’s imbedded in your memory, you don’t have to recall it in great detail to receive the benefits.


“We have brain circuits that drive a “social hunger” – an appetite for finding and reinforcing social bonds, and the release of the neurochemical dopamine from a special brain location (called the dorsal raphe nucleus; DRN) is involved in that drive. Studies on introverts and extroverts suggest that introverts like social interaction but are socially satisfied faster than are extroverts. This makes sense, based potential differences in the amount of dopamine they release from the DRN in response to social interactions. Don’t assume that introverts are quiet and that extroverts talk a lot. That can be true, but just as often, it is simply that introverts experience more dopamine release from less social interaction and thus are satisfied earlier. The takeaway is to offer (or take) opportunities to exit social interactions early and not feel guilty about it or take offense. The extroverts can keep at it until they get the DRN/dopamine they need. If anyone gets offended when you say, “all full… I’m ready to go”, feel free to cite me.”



“Elegant studies done earlier this year show that when people hear a story, their hearts begin to beat in a similar way even if they are not in the same room as one another. This is remarkable and holds up even for people with very different backgrounds and lives. Other studies point to the fact that when people have similar physiological experiences, they forever feel closer, which is familiar to many of us. Oxytocin (a hormone) appears to be involved. Narrative drives common physiological responses, which are powerful glue for relationship building of all kinds. The takeaway: Build social bonds by hearing, watching or sharing stories. Everyone being on their individual phones is not the way to do that. Watching movies, hearing someone tell stories, playing or listening to music, etc. are all excellent paths to this. Do those things together.”

Newsletter article from The Neural Network, by Andrew Huberman, PhD,  Huberman Lab Podcasts

Top Ten Myths about YOUR Brain

True confessions:  At one time we too believed some of the myths.  (This is so well-written we were left speech-less with the exceptions of some asides which we always put in red italics so we are not sued)

Brain myths

Myth 1. We only use a small percentage of our brain.

“Repeated in pop culture for a century, the notion that humans only use 10 percent of our brains is false. Scans have shown that much, if not all, of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks.”

Myth 2. “Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent. 

“We all have memories that feel as vivid and accurate as a snapshot, usually of some shocking, dramatic event—the assassination of President Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks of September 11, 2001. People remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, what they saw or heard. But several clever experiments have tested people’s memory immediately after a tragedy and again several months or years later. The test subjects tend to be confident that their memories are accurate and say the flashbulb memories are more vivid than other memories. Vivid they may be, but these memories decay over time just as other memories do. People forget important details and add incorrect ones, with no awareness that they’re recreating a muddled scene in their minds rather than calling up a perfect, photographic reproduction.”

Myth 3. It’s all downhill after 40 (Good to know that as our bodies slide downhill our brains are still firm and appropriately wrinkled)

“It’s true, some cognitive skills do decline as you get older. Children are better at learning new languages than adults—and never play a game of concentration against a 10-year-old unless you’re prepared to be humiliated. Young adults are faster than older adults to judge whether two objects are the same or different; they can more easily memorize a list of random words, and they are faster to count backward by sevens.”

“But plenty of mental skills actually improve with age:

  • Vocabulary – older people know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions.
  • Given a biographical sketch of a stranger, they’re better judges of character.
  • They score higher on tests of social wisdom, such as how to settle a conflict.
  • People get better and better over time at regulating their own emotions and finding meaning in their lives.

Myth 4. We have five senses. 


“Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch are the big ones. But we have many other ways of sensing the world and our place in it. Proprioception is a sense of how our bodies are positioned. Nociception is a sense of pain. We also have a sense of balance—the inner ear is to this sense as the eye is to vision—as well as a sense of body temperature, acceleration and the passage of time.”

“Compared with other species, though, humans are missing out. Bats and dolphins use sonar to find prey; some birds and insects see ultraviolet light; snakes detect the heat of warmblooded prey; rats, cats, seals and other whiskered creatures use their “vibrissae” to judge spatial relations or detect movements; sharks sense electrical fields in the water; birds, turtles and even bacteria orient to the earth’s magnetic field lines.”

Myth 5. Brains are like computers. 

“We speak of the brain’s processing speed, its storage capacity, its parallel circuits, inputs and outputs. The metaphor fails at pretty much every level:

  • The brain doesn’t have a set memory capacity that is waiting to be filled up
  • It doesn’t perform computations in the way a computer does
  • Basic visual perception isn’t a passive receiving of inputs because we actively interpret, anticipate and pay attention to different elements of the visual world.

“There’s a long history of likening the brain to whatever technology is the most advanced, impressive and vaguely mysterious.”

  • Descartes compared the brain to a hydraulic machine.
  • Freud likened emotions to pressure building up in a steam engine.
  • The brain later resembled a telephone switchboard and then an electrical circuit before evolving into a computer;
  • lately it’s turning into a Web browser or the Internet.

These metaphors linger in clichés: emotions put the brain “under pressure” and some behaviors are thought to be “hard-wired.”

Myth 6. The brain is hard-wired. (This is not that same as being hard-headed, which is not a myth)

“This is one of the most enduring legacies of the old “brains are electrical circuits” metaphor. There’s some truth to it, as with many metaphors: the brain is organized in a standard way, with certain bits specialized to take on certain tasks, and those bits are connected along predictable neural pathways (sort of like wires) and communicate in part by releasing ions (pulses of electricity).”

“But one of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the past few decades is that the brain is remarkably plastic. In blind people, parts of the brain that normally process sight are instead devoted to hearing. Someone practicing a new skill, like learning to play the violin, “rewires” parts of the brain that are responsible for fine motor control. People with brain injuries can recruit other parts of the brain to compensate for the lost tissue.”

(Did you read  the true story,The Pulling, Climbing, Falling Down Tale of Maui and His Back Legs about how Peggy’s cat Maui rewired his brain so he could walk after his back legs were paralized?  It’s a FREE PDF on our January Knewsletter – email us if you didn’t get a copy)

Myth 7. A conk on the head can cause amnesia. 


“Next to babies switched at birth, this is a favorite trope of soap operas: Someone is in a tragic accident and wakes up in the hospital unable to recognize loved ones or remember his or her own name or history. (The only cure for this form of amnesia, of course, is another conk on the head.)”

“In the real world, there are two main forms of amnesia: anterograde (the inability to form new memories) and retrograde (the inability to recall past events). Science’s most famous amnesia patient, H.M., was unable to remember anything that happened after a 1953 surgery that removed most of his hippocampus. He remembered earlier events, however, and was able to learn new skills and vocabulary, showing that encoding “episodic” memories of new experiences relies on different brain regions than other types of learning and memory do. Retrograde amnesia can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury (ask an NFL player), thiamine deficiency or other insults. But a brain injury doesn’t selectively impair autobiographical memory—much less bring it back.”

Myth 8. We know what will make us happy. (If only this WERE true . . .)

“In some cases we haven’t a clue. We routinely overestimate how happy something will make us, whether it’s a birthday, free pizza, a new car, a victory for our favorite sports team or political candidate, winning the lottery or raising children. Money does make people happier, but only to a point—poor people are less happy than the middle class, but the middle class are just as happy as the rich. We overestimate the pleasures of solitude and leisure and underestimate how much happiness we get from social relationships.”

“On the flip side, the things we dread don’t make us as unhappy as expected. Monday mornings aren’t as unpleasant as people predict. Seemingly unendurable tragedies—paralysis, the death of a loved one—cause grief and despair, but the unhappiness doesn’t last as long as people think it will. People are remarkably resilient.”

Myth 9. We see the world as it is. 

“We are not passive recipients of external information that enters our brain through our sensory organs. Instead, we actively search for patterns (like a Dalmatian dog that suddenly appears in a field of black and white dots), turn ambiguous scenes into ones that fit our expectations (it’s a vase; it’s a face) and completely miss details we aren’t expecting. In one famous psychology experiment, about half of all viewers told to count the number of times a group of people pass a basketball do not notice that a guy in a gorilla suit is hulking around among the ball-throwers.”

“We have a limited ability to pay attention (which is why talking on a cellphone while driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving), and plenty of biases about what we expect or want to see. Our perception of the world isn’t just “bottom-up”—built of objective observations layered together in a logical way. It’s “top-down,” driven by expectations and interpretations.”

10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. (No comment)

“Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.”

“Women are thought to outperform men on tests of empathy. They do—unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women. The same pattern holds in reverse for tests of spatial reasoning. Whenever stereotypes are brought to mind, even by something as simple as asking test subjects to check a box next to their gender, sex differences are exaggerated. Women college students told that a test is something women usually do poorly on, do poorly. Women college students told that a test is something college students usually do well on, do well. Across countries—and across time—the more prevalent the belief is that men are better than women in math, the greater the difference in girls’ and boys’ math scores. And that’s not because girls in Iceland have more specialized brain hemispheres than do girls in Italy.”

“Certain sex differences are enormously important to us when we’re looking for a mate, but when it comes to most of what our brains do most of the time—perceive the world, direct attention, learn new skills, encode memories, communicate (no, women don’t speak more than men do), judge other people’s emotions (no, men aren’t inept at this)—men and women have almost entirely overlapping and fully Earth-bound abilities.”

Are These Drugs the Future of Valentine’s Day?

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.”’

How texting makes stress worse

I don’t text and dislike Zoom.  All things that are seemingly ON-DEMAND stress me out.  I prefer to conveniently blamed it on fibromyalgia/ME – my favorite scape-goat for all things I can’t explain, including UFO’s).  Read this if you are running out of scapegoats for your stress. judy
By Bryan Lufkin
“If group chats give us solace and connection in a crisis, why do some of us feel burnt out and overwhelmed by them?”

“When lockdown first started  Zoom group chats and meetings seemed like lifelines. Texting was the answer to quick connections to friends and family.”

“As time went on I found Zoom meetings and group chats increased my stress. My phone was already constantly lighting up with news notifications, and the 50 or 60 missed texts that I could get in an hour from any one group chat made me feel anxious about putting it down. I felt guilty for not responding to a text right away, or checking in on a group thread. I couldn’t exactly come up with a good excuse, either – what was I going to say: “Sorry I missed your message, I was too busy staying at home doing nothing for the eighth consecutive month”?

“It’s surprising to discover that in the age of social distancing, it’s possible to suffer from social overload. If they give us solace and connection in a crisis, why do some of us feel burnt out and overwhelmed by them?”


‘Communication debt’

“Lockdown has meant that many more of us are using messaging apps. Text messages are casual, immediate and research shows that we like them more than emails. By late March, for example, WhatsApp had already reported a 40% spike in the number of users. A study in September of more than 1,300 US adults showed that use of digital communications of all kinds increased during Covid, with text messaging leading with a 43% jump.”

“We’re lucky to have that kind of technology; without Zoom, Slack and WhatsApp, the pandemic would be a far lonelier experience. But group chat platforms come with an immediacy and intimacy that can make participating in them feel stressful.”

“One reason they stress us out is the built-in urge to read a text in real time – and the parallel expectation in online culture that you will also respond in real time,” says Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University in California who specialises in the intersection of technology and psychology. Not responding right away makes us anxious; it gives us a “sense of having fallen behind and broken a major rule of online communications”.

“What’s more, when you fall behind in a group chat, a backlog of missed messages can quickly pile up. Then, before you know it, texting starts to feel as cumbersome as drudging through work email. It makes for a “dreaded communication debt that we can now accrue by having asynchronous messages”, says Bernie Hogan, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute.”

“Before the pandemic, we could use the excuse of our busy lives to explain away missing a message or an entire conversation. If you felt tired and didn’t want to socialise, you could just say so. But since options for social activity have been so curtailed, group chats have come to play a bigger role in many of our lives. We feel we should prize these interactions, yet they’re coming at a much faster pace and higher volume than we’re used to.”

One reason they stress us out is the built-in urge to read a text in real time – Elias Aboujaoude

“While we could still manage, pre-Covid, to interrupt what we were doing and engage in this read-and-respond-in-real-time ritual, it has become all but impossible to continue doing so with the magnitude and frequency of interruptions today,” says Aboujaoude.”

‘Pavlovian response’ of anxiety

“But it’s not just group chats it’s the technology itself. We already knew that being glued to our phones and computers was bad for our health. Depending on technology for all of our social communication needs can add to our cognitive load – something already under increased pressure in the pandemic.”

“Each [group chat] conversation might have its own emotional register. Switching between these has a psychological ‘switching cost’ both intellectually and mentally,” says Hogan, especially as we also jump among messaging platforms.”

“Then there’s the fact that some of us are experiencing burnout from all the demoralising pandemic news. Although early on we may have welcomed the articles that our friends shared as we strove to understand the impacts of Covid-19, we subsequently began to dread the stream of anxiety-fuelling updates.”

“Early into the pandemic, group chats may have felt like a good way to commiserate with many people simultaneously. You could count on everyone in the group having this stressful experience in common with you,” says Aboujaoude. “The problem, it soon became clear, is that the stress and anxiety that sometimes come with one-on-one texting is magnified exponentially in group chats.”

“And there’s also the issue of notifications that accompany each text or breaking news update – so even if the group chat is sending GIFs of monkeys back and forth, we still get anxious in this environment every time our phone vibrates or lights up.”

“Even if you have the ability to distinguish the different beeps and alerts, at this point, it’s almost like a Pavlovian response, where it’s just that beep that sets off that anxiety,” says Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association. “It means something terrible has happened, even if it’s not [terrible].”

Opting out

“Of course, your tolerance for group chatting will depend on what else you’re juggling; Wright points out that not everyone is experiencing the same levels of stress.”

“Your great aunt may be retired, lives alone and finds that the group chat is really her only outlet to connect, while your college friends may be juggling working from home and Zoom fatigue, and trying to manage children at home e-learning, and may just feel like they don’t have the bandwidth to maintain the group chat,” she says. “The level of fatigue I think a lot of people are experiencing may just make it not practical to engage in the group chat.”

You actually don’t need to have an excuse for not texting somebody right away – Vaile Wright

“If you are feeling overloaded by your group chat commitment, experts say there are ways to combine appreciating these important connections with periods in which you disengage.”

“You actually don’t need to have an excuse for not texting somebody right away. It’s okay,” says Wright, adding we should do things within our control to safeguard our mental wellbeing. She recommends turning off notifications, muting threads or excusing yourself from a group chat for a while. She says some people’s feelings might get hurt, but setting boundaries is crucial. Explain it’s something you need, rather than just ghosting people, or say something like: “I can’t respond to this text, but the next time we’re doing a call, make sure you include me.”

“Aboujaoude points out that being burnt out on group chats is a good reason to rediscover phone calls, “where more in depth, less distracted communicating can still take place”. Wright concurs, saying: “Group chats are great for quick updates or sharing funny memes, but [the medium] doesn’t really lend itself to sharing important aspects of our lives, providing emotional support, sharing a laugh or a good cry. Phone calls provide more opportunities to really connect on an emotional level.”

“Indeed, research has shown that voice-to-voice communication – as opposed to visual communication only, like texting – increases your ‘empathetic accuracy’ and your ability to tune into the other person’s emotions, allowing for a deeper connection.”

eating and stresxs

“So, if you really want to talk, perhaps pick up the phone. And if you need to tell your friends you’re muting the group chat, chances are, they’ll understand. “A solid relationship will withstand digital separation,” says Aboujaoude.”

(Telephone conversations stress me out . . .must be fibromyalgia/ME . . . my number 1 scapegoat reigns supreme)[BBC%20News%20Newsletter]-2021February8-[worklife]

Log, don’t Jog – 10-minutes to boost your happiness

“With just six simple steps, this programme could enhance your well-being in less time than it takes to drink a cup of coffee.”

 Day-to-day stresses can easily drain your life of fulfilment and contentment.

“There is no shortage of evidence-based strategies that can help to pull you out of that rut – the scientific field of so-called ‘positive psychology’ is now 20 years old and has provided countless techniques to boost your mood.”

“But how do we find the time to apply them in our daily lives? Sandi Mann, a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, offers one solution. Building on her experience as a clinical psychologist, she has some suggestions that might help.”

“As she outlines in her book, Ten Minutes to Happiness, her programme takes the form of a daily journal, to be completed in six parts:”

1.         What experiences, however mundane, gave you pleasure?

2.         What praise and feedback did you receive?

3.         What were the moments of pure good fortune?

4.         What were your achievements, however small?

5.         What made you feel grateful?

6.         How did you express kindness?

“Much of the programme builds on a vast amount of scientific research showing that taking a little time to reappraise your day in these ways can slowly shift your mindset so that you eventually find more happiness in your life. When we feel low, it can be easy to overlook the things that are going right – and keeping this journal brings them to the forefront of your attention.”

“Mann stresses that the benefits do not just come from the immediate lift as you write the entries; re-reading your previous entries can help you cope with difficult situations in the future too. Thanks to our ‘associative’ memory, a dark mood – caused by one bad event – may lead you to preferentially remember other sources of stress and unhappiness. Whenever that happens, leafing through the pages of your journal may help you to break out of that ruminative spiral.”

“The sixth point builds on recent research into the power of kindness. Various studies have found that selfless acts not only increase the well-being of those around you, they consistently boost your own mood too. Spending a bit of money to help a stranger, for instance, makes you far happier than using the same cash to treat yourself, a finding that has been replicated in more than 130 countries.”

“Focusing on those occasions should ensure you make the most of those warm feelings while also encouraging you to look for new opportunities the next day.”

“A 10-minute review of your day can’t work miracles, of course – and Mann stresses that anyone who suspects they may suffer from depression should still see their GP for professional medical care. But for those who generally feel ‘low’ and stressed, without severe clinical symptoms, this might just help put you back on the right path.”

  • Article by David Robson


Can Doing Household Chores Keep Your Brain Healthy? (parenthetically speaking)

My choice between doing household chores and almost anything else is a NO BRAINER!   My cleaning hacks are plentiful: 

  • Furniture dusty?  I open the windows when it’s windy to blow the dust off . 
  • Dirty floor?  I buy another throw rug to cover it up. 
  • Car needs cleaning?  Wait for the rain and drive around block

Supposedly,  there’s a major reason to consider reframing my relationship with chores— According to a study*  the benefits of doing chores include a major boon for brain health.


I find that music helps

The study sought to draw links between doing chores and brain health and cognition. 66 cognitively healthy older adults underwent three medical assessments:

  • a health evaluation
  • structural brain imaging
  • a cognitive assessment.
  • They were also asked how often they spent tidying up their home, meal-prepping, doing housework, yard work, and other to-do list activities.

The conclusion? Those who were ‘doing more chores around their home displayed more brain volume in the hippocampus and frontal lobe, which are the brain areas that help with memory, learning, and cognition. So seemingly, when performing mindless chores like scrubbing the floor or doing a load of laundry, you actually may be sharpening your brain.

The study was limited in terms of its narrow testing and focus on a specific age group, but it does track that the benefits of doing chores would include brain health.

  1. The organizational and planning aspect of chores  may promote the formation of new neural connections. (Maybe try creative expression: Doodle on to-do list, color-code the books on in your bookcase, and organize your spices alphabetically)
  2. Chores may also keep you active in a way that’s similar to low-intensity aerobic exercise, which can bolster heart health and, subsequently, help brain health.  Lots of movement is the most important brain exercise known to man (but not to women who’s wider hips are meant for sitting).

There are 3 well-researched areas that do increase brain health:

1.  Stress reduction

Furthermore, the benefits of doing chores can also extend to relieving stress, since cleaning can promote a sense of control, and organization can help calm down the nervous system. Considering that stress can compromise all facets of wellness, including our cognitive brain health. (Meditating on having a clean house calms me, as long as I don’t open my eyes and look around)

2.  Move

It’s suggested adding some creative movement into your routine. For instance, dance while vacuuming or dusting. Listen to music to make it as fun as possible. (I  prefer dancing while watching someone else vacuum)

3.  Novelty

Our brains seek novelty, changes and challenges.  Train your brain while doing chores in the house by changing things up is a way to introduce novelty implement new routines. Do a bit of research about the best methods that you can use for cleaning or doing laundry. (I watch videos on cleaning hacks but haven’t found one I’ve wanted to try.)

 My brain is undoubtedly rotting as we speak.  judy

BMC Geriatrics Journal,

How to Hack Judy’s (and your) taste buds – Part 2

Dear Judy, here  are 3 ways your body knows what to eat:

  1. Taste:  neurons that respond to taste signal your insula -which tracts sensations in your body. There are  5 basic tastes: bitterness, sweet, salty, sour and unami  (savory).  (We know which one is your favorite . . .)

  2. Feel: the texture sensations of the food in the mouth.

  3. Gut neurons: (Yes, you have neurons in your intestines). They are called neuropod cells and respond to amino acids, sugars and fatty acids, and send signals to the brain through a cluster of ganglia know as the nodose ganglia. (yes, Judy, you have nodose ganglia). This in turn triggers dopamine in your brain, which is a reward chemical that motivates you to eat more. The good and bad news is this is a subconscious signal which triggers release of dopamine that affects your eating choices.

A combination of these gut signals, taste and feel in your mouth entice you to eat certain foods and you don’t even know this is happening!

Learned associations

We also learn what foods to prefer.  Partly cultural and partly bio-chemical as food impacts both our metabolism and our brain. This is especially true of sugar.

Humans are wired to eat food that raises blood sugar (blood glucose).  In part sweet food signaled it was safe to eat when humans foraged for food and it gives energy to continue foraging.  Research studies show that sugar actually helps brain neurons function.

And when sugar is consumed, there’s a surge of dopamine. Dopamine, often called a feel- good chemical,  rewards you to to repeat the experience. (Dopamine is implicated in addictive behaviors)

Talk to yourself! Crave sardines over sugar . . .

How do you reduce sugar cravings?  Using the dopamine trigger you can learn to change eating choices  by pairing foods together . . . kinda like Pavlov’s dogs . . .

1.  What we tell ourselves about food can impact how they taste.  This won’t change your mind about tastes you can’t tolerate, so pick food with a more “neutral” appeal and tell yourself it is good for your brain or your health.  Do this enough times with conviction, the “neutral” food will start to taste better. The process behind this involves the insula and nucleus accumbins, parts of the brain’s reward system.

2.  Pair the “neutral” food with a carbohydrate that slightly raises your blood glucose, gives a dose of dopamine and you’ll be rewarded for eating the more neutral food.

For example: Click here for Part I and the healthier foods listed (J-I will add link when part 1 is PUB) alongside foods that raise glucose but are not sweet (rice, potatoes, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy that is not sweetened) 


Our learned response to food is good news because we are never too old to learn new behaviors and make new choices.

Click here for Huberman Lab podcast “Nutrients for Brain Health and Performance 

Eating for Judy’s (and your) brain – Part 1

Judy struggles with chronic fatigue.  She explains why she eats what she does as self medicating with food.  I’ve been listening to podcasts* to help her figure out what food is better than the carbohydrates she craves for energy.  (Hey! That’s what friends are for).

This is Part 1 on food and the brain.  Part 2 (coming) focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.

Meowie brain:lifting circle

Dear Judy,  Eat your FAT! 

Neurons thrive on glucose and sometimes on ketones. The most important ingredient to help neurons thrive is FAT.  Yep, the most important food to give your brain is fat.

This is because your brain’s cell membranes, which regulate electrical activity, are made of fat. (a bit different from body fat).

But not just any fat . . . Omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.Omega 3 is found in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, arctic char and trout. Omega 6 is found in nuts and seeds, corn, meat poultry, fish and eggs.  It is better to get Omega 6 from sources other than the saturated fats found in meat and dairy, and to get both kinds.


You can take supplements but it is better to get them from foods which also have other nutrients our brains and bodies need.

6 nutrients that enhance brain function and the foods to eat


The top 3:

#1 EPA  mostly found in fish:  mackerel, salmon, anchovies, caviar, sardines, walnuts, and chia seeds. 

#2 Phosphosidolcerine: a lipid like compound  found in fish, meats and cabbage.

#3 Choline:  helps produce acetylcholine to enhance the activity of neurons which helps focus and alertness.  A primary source is egg yoke.  Many plant foods also contain choline such as potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains and fruit.

and a few more…..

#4 Creatine: found in meat and is a fuel source for the brain, can enhance mood regulation, and particularly helps with depression.

#5  Anthocyanins: found in dark blue & black berries and helps lower inflammation—a cup or two every day can help reduce DNA damage and cognitive decline.


#6 Glutamine is an amino acid found in cottage cheese, beef, chicken, fish, beans, cabbage, spinach, parsley, which can offset sugar craving as well as reduce inflammation.

Other things that affect your brain health indirectly:

1. Sleep is basis of all health mental and physical


2.  Cardiovascular health and exercise 150-180 min per week of cardio, (Judy, that’s just 20 minutes a day).  Add in 5 minutes of  weights, crucial for heart-health which affects the brain.  ( I can hear you saying “it hurts to weight lift because of fibromyalgia”) . . . just find other things to lift – move furniture when cleaning, pick up garden tools when gardening . . . )

Part 2 focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.

* Daniel Huberman’s podcast. 

Listen to the full podcast, click here: Nutrients for Brain Health and Performance

Creative Expression BENEFITS your BRAIN

During self-isolation due to coronavirus, many are turning to the arts. Whether looking for a creative outlet or opportunity for expression, it’s  possible that we are driven by an innate desire to use our brains in ways that make us feel good.

Having facilitated millions (maybe not millions, but a LOT) of Therapeutic Creative Expression workshops I know that creative expression — in all its many forms – is stress reducing and a tool for healing.  There is compelling  cutting-edge research, that the arts have positive effects on mental health which supports my experience and observations.

Found objects & magazine pictures


This is a new field of study called neuroesthetics, which uses brain imaging and biofeedback to learn about the brain on art. Scientists are learning about how art lifts our moods and captures our minds.

Evidence from biological, cognitive and neurological studies show visual art boosts wellness and the ability to adapt to stress.

“While practicing the arts is not the panacea for all mental health challenges, there’s enough evidence to support prioritizing arts in our own lives at home as well as in our education systems.”
“Research shows that the arts can be used to create a unique cognitive shift into a holistic state of mind called flow, a state of optimal engagement first identified in artists, that is mentally pleasurable and neurochemically rewarding.”

1. Art promotes well-being through Mindfullness

HeART of Spirituality Workshop Judy Facilitated

MINDFULNESS AND FLOW — The arts have been found to be effective tools for mindfulness (a trending practice in schools that is effective for managing mental health).

“Specifically, engaging with visual art has been found to activate different parts of the brain other than those taxed by logical, linear thinking; and another study found that visual art activated distinct and specialized visual areas of the brain.”

Collage using Magazine Pictures

Neuroesthetic findings suggest this is not an experience exclusive to artists: it is simply untapped by those who do not practice in the arts.

There is a wealth of studies on the relationship between the arts, flow, and mental health, and flow-like states have been connected to mindfulnessattentioncreativity, and even improve cognition.

Magazine picture collage


1. Make mistakes – Experiment

The first rule of all my Creative Expression workshops is:


Try something new and be willing to make mistakes to learn. Most professional artists practice for years and admit to making lots of pictures they don’t like before one they are satisfied with.  Those we now consider “masters” destroy pieces of their art – we only see what they felt was successful.

Our “feel-good” brain neurochemistry is activated when we try to learn new things.

2. Reuse and repeat – Practice & Process over Product

Play and experiment with reusable materials:

  • Dry-erase markers on windows that can be easily wiped away.
  • Sculpting material, like play dough that can be squished and reshaped.
  • Etch-a-Sketch, Buddha Boards
  • Crayons and coloring books
  • Scribble on cardboard

When your goal is to experiment you emphasize practice and process over product and take the pressure off to make something that looks good. If you want to keep a copy, snap a photo of the work, then let it go.

3. Silence Part of Your Brain

Don’t talk when you are making art, and if you are listening to music, choose something without lyrics. The parts of the brain activated during visual art are different than those activated for speech generation and language processing. Give those overworked parts of the mind a break, and indulge in the calm relaxation that comes from doing so.

The neurochemicals that are released feel good, and that is your brain’s way of thanking you for the experience.

Take a look at some early posts on Creative Expression:

Tutorial: Processing Your Creative Journaling

Processing Theraputic Creative Expression

Sneek a Peek Into My Journal

 Originally posted on Curious to the Max   where Judy posts her own art  

BYDK* – Chronic yawning may mean you are the smartest person in the room

Yawns are known to be contagious and often occur at inopportune times. But, have you ever stopped to consider why humans and countless other mammals yawn so frequently? What purpose does it serve?


For a long time, the most widely believed theory was that yawning helps oxygenate our blood. Now, however, new research from Utrecht University reports yawning actually serves to cool the brain.

“According to study co-author Andrew Gallup, from the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, yawning works as the mind’s AC system “through the simultaneous inhalation of cool air and the stretching of the muscles surrounding the oral cavities, yawning increases the flow of cooler blood to the brain, and thus has a thermoregulatory function.”

“Tons of recorded observations support this theory. Brain temperature always drops post-yawn, and ambient brain temperature can be used to accurately predict when the next yawn is coming. Moreover, when people hold an ice pack or cold beverage to their head or neck, they rarely yawn.

So, with all this under consideration, researchers theorized that the larger the brain, the more cooling down it needs. In other words, a big brain means a long yawn. To investigate, a total of 1,250 yawns emitted by 55 mammal species and 46 bird species were analyzed. Additional videos of animals yawning on the internet were also considered.


“In this new study, we wanted to see how universal that theory is, and especially whether it holds true for birds,” comments behavioral biologist and study co-author Jorg Massen. “We went to several zoos with a camera and waited by the animal enclosures for the animals to yawn. That was a pretty long haul.”

“Getting video footage of so many yawning animals requires quite some patience, and the subsequent coding of all these yawns has made me immune to the contagiousness of yawning,” explains co-lead author Margarita Hartlieb of the University of Vienna.

Next, the duration of all those yawns was compared and linked to brain and neuronal data. Ultimately, that process led researchers to conclude that regardless of body size, yawning duration increases “with the size and number of neurons in the brain of a given species.”

Mammals (including humans) also tend to yawn longer than birds, but that can be explained by differences in body temperature. Birds have a higher core temperature, which means it takes less air (yawning) to cool down.

In summation, it seems mammals and birds both evolved over time to yawn as a way to keep our minds in top shape. The brain doesn’t work well when it’s overheating.

On a lighter note, this study certainly flips the script on the typical narrative surrounding yawning. Yawning is often seen as rude or inconsiderate like we’re deliberately trying to let everyone know we’re bored, but maybe in reality the opposite holds true. The next time a friend laments your multiple yawns during a story, remind him or her that your brain was just trying to stay alert and functioning.

“We should maybe stop considering yawning as rude, and instead appreciate that the individual is trying to stay attentive,” Mullen concludes.

*Bet You Didn’t Know!

The full study can be found here, published in Communications Biology.


Happy stories synch your brain

Children love to be read stories.  And as always, children know best.  Research published in eNeuro shows . . .

Successful storytelling can synchronize brain activity between the speaker and listener, but not all stories are created equal. Sharing happy stories increases feelings of closeness and brain synchrony more than sad stories. 

Researchers from East China Normal University compared how emotional stories impact interpersonal connection and communication. In the study:

  • The speaker — watched happy, sad, and neutral videos and recorded themselves explaining the contents of the videos.
  • The listeners — listened to the narration and rated how close they felt to the speaker afterward. Both the speaker and the listeners completed their tasks while researchers measured their brain activity with EEG.

Sharing happy stories produced better recall in the listeners, as well as higher ratings of interpersonal closeness. The increased closeness was linked to increased synchrony between the brain activity of the speaker and listener, particularly in the frontal and left temporoparietal cortices. These regions are involved in emotional processing and theory of mind, respectively. Brain synchrony could become a measure of successful connection and communication.”

 Our books have happy endings.  Perhaps we were syncing our brains with yours?


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Click here for “The Pulling, Climbing, Falling Down Tale of Maui and His Back Legs” on Amazon 

Click here for “The Real Tale of Little Red Riding Hood & the Wolf” on Amazon

Click here for “Hack Your Way to Happiness” on Amazon 

Continue reading

Fed up with Facebook

Personal note from Judy: I’ve decided to completely delete my facebook accounts. The lack of social responsibility and focus on greed is something I no longer wish to support in any way.
If you want to continue to see what I’m “up to” please subscribe to the blogs Peggy and I share:

If you don’t like blogs, e-mail us at to be put on our mailing list for our once a month CURIOUS KNEWSletter.

We often include links for FREE PDF’s and periodically curious things, fun things, helpful things, scientific things.  You never know what our monthly focus will be because we (read Judy) doesn’t plan ahead . . . much to Peggy’s chagrin as she is charged with all the illustrations.  The one thing you CAN count on is our KnewsLetter will appear in your e-mail sometime during the month.

Here’s a sample of of KNEWS where we repeated one of our favorite quickie stress relievers we first featured here on MAXyourMIND:

July 2021 KNEWSletter

Ice cream, vacations, and hugs all deserve to be repeated – along with many of the self-help tips and techniques we’ve shared on MAXyourMIND blog.   One of the most requested repeats is Square breathing.  So we’ve now gotten around to sharing it with you. (pun intended).
 Square breathing can lead to mindfulness, slow the heartbeat, lower or stabilize blood pressure.” and it’s easy to do.

What is square breathing?

Also known as box breathing, 4×4 breathing or four-part breath, square breathing is a type of diaphragmatic breath work—deep breathing using your diaphragm, which fills your lungs with oxygenated air more fully than shallow chest breathing. According to Harvard Health Publishing“Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange—that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.

This type of breathwork has been scientifically proved to help increase calm and focus and decrease stress, depression and anxiety—even the military teaches it to aid in stress-related emotional disorders. It’s also a great way to practice mindfulness.

How to practice square breathing

First, breathe normally (if you’re reading this you are probably doing it already!). Then inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Make sure your belly expands as you inhale and constricts as you exhale; this is diaphragmatic breathing because you’re using your diaphragm! Take a moment to think about each cycle of breath. As you simply stay aware of your breathing, you’re already practicing mindfulness. On your next cycle, start square breathing:

  1. Inhale through your nose for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)

  2. Hold your breath for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)

  3. Exhale through your mouth for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)

  4. Pause and hold for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)

  5. Repeat

When to practice square breathing?

On a walk, before bed, in the shower, sitting at your desk – anywhere you breath. Practicing square breathing when you’re not in a stressful situation is just as important for mindfulness, and it will prepare you to do it when you are in a tense situation, whether that’s a stressful meeting or an actual crisis.

PLEEEEEEZE forward to a friend . . . or stranger.
We want to share as much of our accumulated information as possible before we turn 100 years old!

Want more Information about your BRAIN?
Click Anxiety and the Size of Your Frontal Cortex!

Copyright © * 2021, Peggy Arndt & Judy Westerfield,  All rights reserved.

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What Happens To Your Body & BRAIN when You Read Everyday

I’m an avid reader and read at least two books at a time – one fiction and one non-fiction.  It’s my way to relax,  learn, experience other worlds and points of view.  Little did I know that my reading habit increases empathy, improves brain connectivity, fights depression,  reduces age-related cognitive decline, and helps me sleep (via Healthline).  Surprisingly it also gives  physical benefits. Peggy

Here’s what happens to your body if you read every day.

When researchers set out to discover which traditional method of relaxation works best, reading came out on top.   Participants in a study first underwent a range of rest and exercises to increase their stress levels and heart rate. They were then subjected to the methods of relaxation like listening to music, playing video games, going for a stroll, sipping a piping hot cup of tea, or reading silently for six minutes. Neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis reported that the latter activity had the largest effect, ultimately reducing stress levels by a whopping 68%.

“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation,” said Lewis. “This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism.” He also noted that it doesn’t really matter what pick you pick up. Whether you opt for a gory mystery novel or the latest self-help book to make its rounds, it’s the actual act of reading that causes you to enter a more relaxed state. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination,” 


Reading a chapter a day keeps the doctor away

“Another relevant study focused on whether or not reading a chapter of a book each day increases a person’s survival advantage, or length of life. The results, which were published in Social Science & Medicine, indicated that those who regularly read books for 12 years experienced a 20% reduction in their risk of dying compared to non-book readers. Based on these numbers, book readers can add almost a year to their life. This is because reading involves a cognitive mediator, which is a mental process that occurs between an activity and a response. It’s similar to how cognitive behavioral therapy affects your mind and body.”

“These findings proved true regardless of the gender, education, wealth, or health of participants. Reading did, however, have an even more powerful effect on the elderly, and reading books proved much more effective than reading newspapers or magazines. So if you want to live until Elon Musk starts colonizing Mars, you’ll have to put down that People Magazine and head on over to your local library.”


Something to read- our book! :  Hack Your Way to Happiness, Kindle edition


How doing art, (ANYTHING CREATIVE) helps your brain

Almost without exception, serious artists describe how they carry a sketchbook and draw – on public transportation, in doctor’s offices, in the car, on land, sea and air . . . wherever they are, wherever they go.  I’ve tried it and failed.  Obviously, I’m not serious artist.  I am, however a proponent of creative expression for health and well-being. (We have posted many tutorials on easy ways of doing “art” for the non-artist. Check the links below)

These artists often explain that when they create it clears their head,  makes them feel calmer and more relaxed.  Research supports their experience.

It turns out there’s a lot happening in our minds and bodies when we make art or engage in any form of creative expression: drawing, painting, collaging, sculpting clay, writing poetry, cake decorating, knitting, scrapbooking the sky’s the limit.


Judy doing art  by Peggy

“Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you,” says Girija Kaimal. She’s a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy, leading art sessions with members of the military suffering from traumatic brain injury and caregivers of cancer patients.

Everybody, no matter what your skill level, is something you should try to do on a regular basis. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. Creative expression helps you imagine a more hopeful future

Our brain is a predictive machine.

Art’s ability to flex our imaginations may be one of the reasons why we’ve been making art since we were cave-dwellers and might serve an evolutionary purpose.  Girija Kaimal,art therapists holds the  theory that art-making helps us navigate problems that might arise in the future.

Her theory builds off of an idea developed in the last few years — that our brain is a predictive machine. The brain uses “information to make predictions about we might do next — and more importantly what we need to do next to survive and thrive.

“When you make art, you’re making a series of decisions — what kind of drawing utensil to use, what color, how to translate what you’re seeing onto the paper. And ultimately, interpreting the images — figuring out what it means.”

“So what our brain is doing every day, every moment, consciously and unconsciously, is trying to imagine what is going to come and preparing yourself to face that,” she says.

“Kaimal has seen this play out at her clinical practice as an art therapist with a student who was severely depressed. “She was despairing. Her grades were really poor and she had a sense of hopelessness,” she recalls.”

The student took out a piece of paper and colored the whole sheet with thick black marker. Kaimal didn’t say anything.
“She looked at that black sheet of paper and stared at it for some time,” says Kaimal. “And then she said, ‘Wow. That looks really dark and bleak.’ “
And then something amazing happened, says Kaimal. The student looked around and grabbed some pink sculpting clay. And she started making … flowers: “She said, you know what? I think maybe this reminds me of spring.”
Through that session and through creating art, says Kaimal, the student was able to imagine possibilities and see a future beyond the present moment in which she was despairing and depressed.

“This act of imagination is actually an act of survival,” she says. “It is preparing us to imagine possibilities and hopefully survive those possibilities.”

2.  Creativity activates the reward center of our brain


For some people, making art can be intimidating – I’m not an artist.  What would I make?   What if it sucks?   Studies show that despite those fears, “engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,” says Kaimal. “Which means that you feel good and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience.”

She and a team of researchers measured blood flow to the brain’s reward center, the medial prefrontal cortex.  In 26 participants as they completed three art activities: coloring in a mandala, doodling and drawing freely on a blank sheet of paper. there was an increase in blood flow to this part of the brain when the participants were making art.

This research suggests making art may have benefit for people dealing with health conditions that activate the reward pathways in the brain, like addictive behaviors, eating disorders or mood disorders.

3.  Creative expression lowers stress

There’s evidence that making art can lower stress and anxiety. Researchers measured cortisol levels of 39 healthy adults. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress.

They found that 45 minutes of creating art in a studio setting with an art therapist significant lowered cortisol levels.

The research also showed that there were no differences in health outcomes between people who identify as experienced artists and people who don’t. So no matter your skill level, you’ll be able to feel all the good things that come with doing creative expression.

4.  Creativity lets you focus deeply – creates a meditative state


“Ultimately, says Kaimal, making art should induce what the scientific community calls “flow” — the wonderful thing that happens when you’re in the zone. “It’s that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You’re so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space,”

And what’s happening in your brain when you’re in flow state? “It activates several networks including relaxed reflective state, focused attention to task and sense of pleasure,” she says. Kaimal points to a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which found that flow was characterized by increased theta wave activity in the frontal areas of the brain — and moderate alpha wave activities in the frontal and central areas.

What kind of “art” should you try?

Not into painting or knitting?  There are types of art appear to yield greater health benefits than others.

CLAY: Kaimal says modeling clay, for example, is wonderful to play around with. “It engages both your hands and many parts of your brain in sensory experiences,” she says. “Your sense of touch, your sense of three-dimensional space, sight, maybe a little bit of sound — all of these are engaged in using several parts of yourself for self-expression, and likely to be more beneficial.”

COLORING: A number of studies have shown that coloring inside a shape — specifically a pre-drawn geometric mandala design — is more effective in boosting mood than coloring on a blank paper or even coloring inside a square shape. 

There’s no one medium or art activity that’s “better” than another. 

5.  Creativity helps process your emotions


It’s important to note: if you’re going through serious mental health distress, you should seek the guidance of a professional art therapist.

However, if you’re making art to connect with your own creativity, decrease anxiety and hone your coping skills, creative expression can help.  For example:

  • Draw or scribble lines, shapes and colors translate your emotional experience. 
  • Focus on feelings or sensations that you feel in your body, your memories. 
  • Pick magazine pictures that intuitively catch your attention for a collage.

“Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world,” *

Read for further suggestions:

*Christianne Strang,  professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association.

What happens to your brain when you feel grateful

Every night I say a Bahai prayer of gratitude but  admit that during the day, often overcome with Chronic fatigue and Fibromyalgia body aches, I lose sight of what I’m grateful for so this paragraph caught my eye:

“The impact of practicing gratitude on physical health is considerable, according to science. To date we’ve conducted research that has demonstrated the benefits of gratitude for people with inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and fibromyalgia,” according to Dr. Fuschia Sirois Ph.D. “Even in people with severe illnesses and low levels of social support, practicing gratitude every day lowered their risk of depression up to six months later. Notably, though, the effects were slightly lower in people living with fibromyalgia, which can be a very painful condition. “Living with fibromyalgia may make it more difficult to find things to be grateful for,” Dr. Sirois says. The impacts of gratitude may depend on the challenges in your life.”

Peggy and I were so impressed by the scientific research behind gratitude we included it in our Happiness Hacks.  We explained that in 5 minutes expressing GRATITUDE could tweak our neurobiology to feel better.  I knew the psychological power of gratitude goes beyond psychological self-care; it can physically change our brains.  I just forget to do the very exercises we share.

“The concept of gratitude — of feeling thankful for what you have — is a very powerful one. Scientists have explored feeling grateful in detail in the past few decades, and research has found that feeling and expressing our gratitude towards others can have tangible positive effects on our physical health and psychological wellbeing.  the science of gratitude says that if you practice gratitude year-round and make it a constant part of your outlook, you may glean a host of good effects:”

  • Shift attention to the positive when dealing with negative and stressful situations.
  • Spend less time focusing on your difficulties.
  • Look at the big picture, helps to contextualize problems and give a fresh perspective. A stressed brain looks at things through a narrow perspective, because its threat centers are activated.
  • Understand a broader perspective, which may help with problem-solving.

“The science of gratitude is part of a body of research known as positive psychology, which studies how certain approaches to life can affect our wellbeing. Positive psychology researchers have demonstrated that the health effects of gratitude are not to be underestimated. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude in tangible ways — by writing in a journal every day about something you’re grateful for, for instance — can reduce symptoms of depression, improve health in heart failure patients, and help people in stressful jobs sleep and eat better.”

 To start practicing gratitude, take small steps like the “Three Good Things” activity: Every night  write down three things you are grateful for and/or good things that happened during the day. It doesn’t take much time, and research shows you may start to see positive effects over the weeks to come.

“Gratitude may help us to feel better because it bonds us with others and helps us look after ourselves. An overview of studies on gratitude in 2010 found that it’s been shown to improve interpersonal relationships, trust and emotional support. Research published in Personality & Individual Differences in 2013 also showed that gratitude may have positive health effects indirectly because it motivates us to seek out self-care behaviors, like exercising, eating nutrient-dense foods, and going to the doctor when we’re sick.”

“Science shows that there isn’t a single gratitude center in the brain, but it can have a significant effect on brain activity. A study published in Neuroimage in 2016 found that practicing gratitude for three months physically changed brain activity. The participants in the study wrote letters expressing their gratitude, and three months later they showed “significantly greater and lasting neural sensitivity to gratitude”, according to the study.  In other words, they experienced more feelings of gratitude in general, and their brains also showed a lot more activity whenever they expressed gratitude, particularly in the medial prefrontal cortex. That brain region is associated with decision-making and learning. Research in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015 also showed that gratitude causes activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which helps us regulate our emotions.”


However, gratitude can’t change everything. “It isn’t a magic bullet,” and it can be a hard habit to cultivate, particularly if you have a serious health condition, or are experiencing severe stress. When things are simply too difficult, the pressure of gratitude can feel like another source of stress, so it’s important to be patient with yourself (judy says as a reminder to herself!).

Here’s my THREE GOOD THINGS for today:

  • I am grateful that MAXyourMIND reminds me to pay better attention to what I know and learn new ways of feeling and being better.
  • I am grateful to have Peggy, whose brain is naturally positive and grateful, as a co-blogger.
  • I am grateful all of you subscribe to our blogs which keeps Peggy and I blogging and learning.

Vampires know the fountain of youth is in your blood – Heterochronic parabiosis


Know-it-all Vampire, by Peggy

Old Mice

“A PUDGY BLACK MOUSE snuffles around a tiny tower of Legos, turns away, then comes back to snuffle again. He’s 18 months old—a senior citizen, in rodent terms. And it’s getting tough to keep it all straight. Do these blocks seem familiar to him? Has he seen this thing before?”

“He’s a bit muddled, but that’s not his fault. Few new neurons are being born inside his itty-bitty brain. The cells that once exuberantly branched, sending lush offshoots to interweave and connect with others, are now sparse and barren.”

“This Lego test indirectly measures those physical changes by monitoring his behavior. When mice of a certain age become forgetful, they spend more time checking out little trinkets they’ve seen before—objects that should warrant only a quick “Oh yeah, that thing again” glance. Cameras and laser-based detectors mounted on the ceiling capture and quantify those pauses and vacillations.”

“Alana Horowitz, the University of California, San Francisco graduate student conducting this FaceTime lab tour, puts her phone camera right up to the mouse’s muzzle. His eyes are bleary, like an old barfly’s. He probably hasn’t groomed himself recently, she says. His coat looks shabby and worn. You’ve likely never looked an elderly mouse in the face, but if you did, all of this—the thinning fur, the dim eyes, the hesitation—would be depressingly familiar. He inspires pity. Like sands through the hourglass, little fella.”


“But in this lab, headed up by neurobiologist Saul Villeda, nobody is sighing and moping over graybeard mice. Here, aging is not a sad fate to bemoan; it’s a problem to be solved. And for mice, at least, this team has already figured out how to reverse the damage time brings.”

How to  rejuvenate mice

“The secret is somewhere within those tiny veins. In a series of studies over the last 15 years, Villeda and others …..have shown that, when infused with blood from young mice, old ones heal faster, move quicker, think better, remember more. The experiments reverse almost every indicator of aging the teams have probed so far: It fixes signs of heart failure, improves bone healing, regrows pancreatic cells, and speeds spinal cord repair. “It sounds sensational, almost like pseudoscience,” says Villeda. It’s some of the most provocative aging research in decades.”

“These studies, which use a peculiar surgical method called parabiosis that turns mice into literal blood brothers, show that aging is not inevitable. It is not time’s arrow. It’s biology, and therefore something we could theoretically change. The attempt to turn back the clock in living bodies “is probably the most revolutionary experiment that biologists have done,” says Stanford professor of neurology Tony Wyss-Coray…. “It supports this notion that it is possible to reassemble and fix things that we thought are doomed to die.”’

“Benjamin Button-ing, of course, isn’t natural. But Villeda counters that getting old isn’t either: “It is the most artificial construct.” Previously, only a very few rare individuals reached 90 or 100. Now, in wealthy nations, it’s becoming downright common. With antibiotics, vaccines, public health measures, and a steady food supply, the industrialized world made the long, slow goodbye of aging commonplace—and, along with it, the consequences, such as brittle bones, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and heart failure. Young-blood research, like some gory fairy tale, whispers to us that there could one day be a magic pill that can fix it all. The plot twist: That bloody fountain of youth was inside our bodies all along.”

It is not known why this works. And it would be too dangerous to use blood itself for anti-aging treatments. What may be possible is that we find what it is in the blood that causes the rejuvenation and turn these into medicines.

Villeda’s and associates are trying to use parabiosis to help the aging brain. They are also looking the effects on the aging brain of exercise and fasting. They want to know if these affect the blood.

The bloody history

“THE IDEA THAT BLOOD can impart vigor and vitality has a long and stomach-turning history. Pliny the Elder, writing in first-century Rome, describes people with epilepsy guzzling the gore of wounded gladiators. Similar motifs reappear frequently in European lore: The sickly 15th-century pope Innocent VIII allegedly traded blood with three shepherd boys; all four died shortly thereafter.”

“Once British physician William Harvey mapped the circulatory system in 1628, swapping fluids became a fad. Across France and England, enterprising proto-scientists linked animals to animals and animals to people, and on and bloody on. Their hypothesis was that blood could remodel the flesh. In 1666, for instance, the legendary natural philosopher Robert Boyle proposed that introducing blood from a cowardly dog into a fierce one might temper the savage beast’s nature.”

“In 1667, London’s Royal Society hosted a public experiment in which a surgeon paid a man suffering from mental illness to be linked to a living sheep for a few moments via feather quills and silver pipes. Perhaps the gentle lamb’s essence might ease his agitation, was the thinking. Afterward the fellow indeed “found himself very well,” at least according to the surgeon, and he allegedly went on to spend his fee in the tavern. (The sheep’s feelings were not recorded.)”

However when a Frenchman died after a transfusion, these practices slowed, and an end was put to the practice by pope Innocent XI. 

“A new round of transfusion science emerged in the early 19th century, this one with much more scientific rigor. These experiments helped establish the first real knowledge about how to keep injured soldiers from bleeding out or mothers from dying in labor. But it wasn’t until 1864 that a Parisian physician working on skin grafts developed true parabiosis: a sustained commingling of the blood supplies of two living creatures.”

“Knowing that the red stuff flows through every organ and tissue, scientists have used the technique ever since to study bodywide states like obesity and systemic diseases like radiation sickness. If you divert blood from a sickly animal into a healthy one, and that one also becomes ill, it suggests some soluble factor in the blood plays a role. That knowledge, in turn, helps you narrow down what causes the illness or condition. For example, in 1958, scientists linked up rats from a strain prone to tooth decay to rodents from another strain that’s naturally resistant to cavities, to test whether something in the blood might account for the differences. In this case, at least, blood swapping made no difference.”

“Heterochronic parabiosis, in which researchers pair two animals at different points in the lifespan, was first used to study aging in the 1950s. But by the 1990s, it was largely forgotten—until Stanford put it back on the map.”

Aging alters everything.

“The hair grows gray, the bones weaken, the heart falters. Inside cells, DNA replication glitches and stutters, and proteins clump up into sticky globs. Meanwhile, natural repair mechanisms like adult stem cells no longer scurry to replace dead or injured tissues. All this happens more or less in sync, as if some systemwide signal has told the whole body to go down the tubes.”

“This organized process of decrepitude was still largely an enigma in 1993, when biologist Cynthia Kenyon, then at UCSF, discovered that mutating just one gene in a roundworm doubled its lifespan. Her finding helped launch the modern study of aging, but it soon became clear that a one-gene or one-protein approach wasn’t going to work, at least not for mammals.”

“But what is it that coordinates this systemic ruin? Fellow Stanford neurologist Thomas Rando reasoned that it made sense to look in the blood, that witch’s brew of biochemical whatnot that bathes the body, pinkie toe to pointer finger. Mostly water, nutrients, and red blood cells, what runs through our veins also transports a huge variety of signaling molecules that coordinate metabolism, immune responses, fight-or-flight reactions, and myriad other activities.”


“On the theory that blood-borne factors might orchestrate the transitions of aging, Rando and two postdocs in his lab, Michael and Irina Conboy, turned to heterochronic parabiosis. In the creepy but simple procedure, the surgeon slits two anesthetized mice down their flanks, then sutures and staples them together, side by side. Because these lab animals are so inbred, their immune systems don’t attack one another. As the incisions heal, their blood vessels connect, and the two share a supply.”

“Conjoined, the Frankenmice learn to eat together, make their little nests together, and ramble around as if they’re in a three-legged race. Their bodies begin to change. The old mouse’s fur gets thicker and silkier. It scrapes together its bedding more quickly. The junior partner loses speed, becomes tentative.”

“The authors had brain data too, but it was too preliminary to be included in the paper. By 2005, the long-held dogma that adult brains cannot make new cells had softened: Research had shown that certain regions, including the hippocampus, could generate new neurons, but claims of actually restoring function still raised most eyebrows sky-high.”

Brains as well as bodies

“Villeda did the tiny surgeries and collected evidence. Soon, he could see that new brain cells were in fact surging in old mice. And they looked great.”

“When a neuron is born in an old brain, it’s [usually] scrunched up,” he says, balling up his fist. “In these old brains they looked just like the young ones, beautiful,” he continues, stretching out his fingers. Those cells eagerly extended their long tendrils to make connections—the synapses that enable learning, memory, thinking, and everything else an elderly mind often struggles with.”

” Villeda demonstrated that the access to young blood not only remodeled old nerve cells so that they looked and responded like younger neurons but also improved aged mouse learning and memory.”



Rejuvinated Mouse, by Peggy

“Wagers and others at places like Columbia Medical Center soon showed that parabiosis could improve the function of heart, bone, and other tissues. These teams worked together to establish a working definition of what really qualifies as rejuvenation, including changes in DNA modification, gene activation, or protein levels characteristic of younger bodies.”

“Villeda .. also collected plasma—blood with the cells removed—from young mice,  and transfused it into older ones. The effect was the same, strongly suggesting that whatever the magic was, it was something dissolved in the fluid itself, some code or key that signaled a fresh start.”

Get SEWED to someone ?

“JUST TO GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY: Nobody’s sewing humans together. Our immune systems would wallop one another, with potentially deadly consequences …Transfusing seniors with young blood isn’t practical either; people would probably need repeat treatments, with each bringing a risk of infection, allergic reaction, and even injury to the lungs … ……….”

Heterochronic parabiosis may not lead to a longer life, it just reverses some decline.

Some are already selling the blood of others

“Of course there are those already selling the plasma of young people. There are plans to charge large amount for doing this, but no studies as yet. Since this is a treatment in use for some rare autoimmune diseases and coagulation problems, the service is legal as long as they make no claims that can’t be backed up. Companies have, however, make such claims, ad the FDA stopped it in 2019.”

 “Everyone recognizes this is an incredibly important experiment,” says Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, who closely follows parabiosis. “What has been lagging is: How do you translate these discoveries?”

The path forward

“The most straightforward path would be to pinpoint a pro-aging factor in old blood,…that a drug could block. Many groups have identified such elements. Villeda and his collaborators, for instance, found that a protein called CCL11 increases in aged humans and mice and is correlated with reduced brain cell birth.”

“The other obvious tactic is to identify youthful plasma’s secret formula and optimize it. The Conboys’ research suggests the hormone oxytocin might be a candidate; Wagers has identified the protein GDF11. Combination therapies are also under consideration; the biotech company Wyss-Coray founded is exploring mixtures of hundreds of blood-borne proteins as therapies for a variety of age-related diseases. Villeda is on its board.”

“It’s also possible that the rejuvenating effects seen in experiments don’t arise from one magic ingredient, or even from some combination of a dozen or a hundred compounds, but happen simply because the procedure dilutes some unknown harmful substances that accumulate in old blood. From this perspective, there’s no particular need for young stuff: Any form of plasma replacement will do.” 

“Their (the Conboys) recent experiments, published in the journal Aging, replaced half the blood of some old mice with a mix of salt water and purified albumin (the main protein in plasma), which successfully rejuvenated the rodents’ hearts, livers, and brains. They too are starting a company and are aiming for human clinical trials to determine if simply flushing out the bloodstream can help with problems like frailty and declining cognition.”

“…Villeda and others are rushing forward with a bigger project: cracking all the other codes that might be written in blood.”

” It’s well known that exercise can reduce some of the effects of aging on the brain, increasing blood flow to the organ and boosting cell birth in one of the few regions that produce new neurons. Shelly Fan, a postdoc in Villeda’s lab wanted to see whether plasma from an active animal could transmit those benefits to a sedentary one. “

“Mature mice were allowed to sprint as much as they wanted on little exercise wheels for six weeks (these critters typically like a nice, brisk jog). She then collected their plasma and delivered it to aged couch-potato equivalents. These older animals’ brains produced extra new neurons, and they aced memory tests. The paper was published in Science in summer 2020.”

“The surprise was that the effects seemed to flow through the liver, which ramped up several factors including an enzyme called GPLD1 that is also plentiful in active elderly humans. Rando and Wyss-Coray, with others…. found that serum (plasma with clotting factors and platelets removed) taken from exercising older mice restarted the systems responsible for muscle repair……..”

Soon we may all want to be vampires . . . of one sort or another . . . 

age (1)



Why having a good listener in your life is important for brain health


Spending time with a good listener not only feels great, it may be key to keeping the brain healthy as people age.

Adults who reported having lots of access to someone who could listen to them when they needed to talk had a younger “cognitive age” then those who had fewer opportunities to share their thoughts with a friend or loved one.

“High listener availability seemed to create a protective buffer against brain shrinkage and other structural brain changes that everyone experiences to some degree with aging, researchers reported in JAMA Network Open.”


“How’s the new web?” 

“The exact mechanisms for this effect aren’t clear, but one theory is that being with a good listener stimulates many parts of the brain, boosting its neuroplasticity — the ability to rewire and adapt, said Dr. Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of neurology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and lead author of the study.”

“You’re creating conditions in your brain that function almost like Miracle-Gro, where you have many brain cells connecting with each other and creating spares,” Salinas told TODAY.

“So even if you do develop any kind of brain injury or disease, you have lots of spare pathways and the information still gets to where it needs to get to.”

Another possible explanation is that being with a good listener helps people manage the effects of chronic stress such as systemic inflammation and heart disease.

“For every unit of decline in brain volume, people in their 40s and 50s who had someone to listen to them had cognitive functioning that was four years younger than their peers who had little access to a good listener, the study found. That means possibly delaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias that show up later in life for millions of Americans.”

“As somebody who does Alzheimer’s research, that four years can make a big difference in terms of having time to spend with your friends and family, to continue your work, to be able to enjoy the things that really make your life meaningful,” Salinas noted.”

“If having a better listener who’s available to you confers some potential kind of protective effect, that’s something that is relatively inexpensive. Any of us can either cultivate it in our lives or actually be that good listener for other people in our life that we care about.”

“The data is based on 2,171 adults who were 45 years old or older and took part in the Framingham Study — one of the largest and longest-running cohorts in the U.S. Each person underwent a brain MRI and cognitive testing. They also shared information about their social support.”

“The researchers found having a good listener readily available in life was associated with greater cognitive resilience compared to being more isolated. That listener access was a more important factor than receiving advice, affection or emotional support from the other person, the study found.”

People who reported high listener availability sustained their brain’s “raw horsepower” over time regardless of its structural changes — performing better than might be expected based on their brain scans,” Salinas said.

“He encouraged all adults to take the time to cultivate an available pool of good listeners in their lives and be a good listener for others.”

“Similar to other factors that improve brain health — such as physical activity and a healthy diet — the earlier people get started, the more likely they are to accumulate benefits over time. It’s also important to pay attention to loneliness, Salinas said.”

“Loneliness is really a symptom of us feeling that we’re not getting the amount of social support that we want or need,” he noted. “Being able to create an environment where you can have people who you can reach out to when you need it can begin to offset some of these negative effects.”


We give thanks to our good friends and to each other for listening and keeping our brains healthy!

Peggy and Judy

“1/4 of a second secret” to stop anger in its tracks

I met some remarkable people working as a therapist in a hospital psychiatric ward.  One of the most memorable was a Vietnam veteran who flew into rages.  He’d lost his lower left leg in battle. But the war or being severely injured were not what made him rageful. He had always raged, even as a child. His father raged as well.

His wife was the main target of his rages.  He would become uncontrollably angry at the smallest of things like forgetting where she left her keys, or spilling a beverage . . .  until he learned the “1/4 second secret” to controlling unwanted anger.

To understand the 1/4 of a second secret you need to understand the fight or flight reaction.

We have an ever vigilant watchdog,  a small almond shaped organ in our midbrain called the amygdala (amygdala from the Greek word for almond) that looks out for us 24/7 and alerts us to any POSSIBLE threat.  

When our brain receives a threat-cue, sounds, sights, smells, touches or even our imagination, our brain wants FAST action. No waiting around for a sign of safety, no thinking things through just FLEE or stay and FIGHT (there is also a “freeze” response but that’s another post).

Our amygdala floods the cells in our body with neurochemical signals to increase blood pressure, raise heart rate, send blood away from major organs to your muscles, constrict capillaries near the skin, increase breathing, and tamper down anything that isn’t crucial to fight or flee for survival. 

Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t discriminate between real threats, imagined threats, conditioned or potential threats.  That’s why things that are, in reality, not threatening can become threat-cues.

Luckily, many people tend to go with flight more easily than fight. But for those whose brain directs them to fight here’s the “1/4 second secret” that stopped the vet’s rages:

Purple brains

The thinking part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, can STOP the fight or flight response. We have 1/4 of a second to interrupt the signal from the threatening stimuli (sounds, sights, smells, touches or our imagination).  In that 1/4 split second tell the amygdala “Stop” or “I’m safe” and take a deep breath.

If we don’t “catch it” in 1/4 of a second a neurochemical cascade will  flood our cells.  Once the cells are flooded it takes 15 – 20 minutes for the neurochemicals to metabolize out of our body (provided no new information saying the threat continues to exist is received).

This is what the vet learned to do:

  • First, he identified the triggers that sent him into a rage.
  • Second, when he anticipated a trigger he used his pre-frontal cortex to say “stop” to the amygdala.
  • Third, if he failed to anticipate the trigger and felt the stress response building he would take a 20 minute walk to speed up  metabolizing out the stress response.

I admired his remarkable determination.  It took him 1/4 of a minute at a time to stop his rage response, change his marriage and improve his life.

Do you have a “secret technique” to control your stress response?

Do you have frisson? Music, Emotion & “Skin Orgasm” (PG 13)

“If music gives you goosebumps, according to scientists at the University of Southern California, you might have a “higher-order cognition” than your peers, and you might even be able to feel emotions greater, and with more intensity.”

The study

The implication from the study* is that “emotional and social processing brain areas**explain individual differences in reward sensitivity to music.”  

“The study consisted of 20 students, 10 of which were self-ascribed music fans, 10 of which were not. The students’ brains were scanned to confirm that those who identified as fans of music experienced goosebumps when listening to a song of their choice.”

Judging by brain scans:

  • The self-ascribed music fan students had brains that reacted in a “heightened manner” to the music.
  • As the volume increased, these students had an increase of activity in “neurological fibers linking their auditory cortex to the part of the brain that processes emotions.
  • This is known by scholars as “frisson.

“The phenomenon of frisson has been highly researched, but laymen might not exactly know what it means. The word frisson is known generally as a synonym for a “thrill,” however in neuroscience, it has a more particular meaning.  Frisson is the physiological and psychological sensation that one experiences when one feels extremely connected to music. Some researchers even call frisson a “skin orgasm,” because the neural pathways activated are so similar.”



“These ”transcendent, psychophysiological moments of musical experiences” were tracked by researchers at McGill University, and linked to “brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal.” (These regions include the “ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex,” which span the topography of the entire brain.)”

“These areas of the brain are also activated when humans are experiencing a rush of pleasure, such as with food, sex, or substance use – things that humans find motivating, arousing, and emotional. Frisson additionally provides autonomic nervous system arousal of all the motor skills we can’t control, like breathing and heart rate. The McGill study reports that frisson causes feelings like “increased heart rate, SCR, and respiratory depth,” the three primary pillars of Autonomic Nervous System arousal.”

How does this make you special?

“As for how this makes some more special than others, it’s less about what frisson is, and more about who experiences frisson. Dr. Matthew Sachs, co-author of the 2016 USC research study on frisson, and the 2019 Presidential Scholar in Neuroscience at Columbia University believes that this study proves that those who experience frisson also feel emotions stronger in general. Because of the participants’ reactivity to “aesthetic stimuli,” their emotional reactivity was judged to be more intense and more frequent.”

“Some believe that this is due to the sensitivity of someone’s neural pathways and that someone can be hard-wired to experience frisson. Another theory is that these pathways are more often used, as the individual might generally be a more emotional person, so the neurons fire at a more rapid rate.”

“If the second theory is true, one can then train themselves to experience frisson if they don’t feel it naturally, just by granting themselves deeper access to their own emotions.”

* Published in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal, 2016.

**Areas within the grey matter in the inner brain, facilitates sensory processing in the superior temporal gyrus, the site of the auditory association cortex)

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