Tag Archives: neuroscience

Blame game: roosters, virus and my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

It’s the Year of the Rooster – I was born under the Chinese sign of the Rooster.  Always thought it to be a curse I was born under a sign that wasn’t fertile enough to lay an egg or two.

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According to my friend Sharon Bonin-Pratt (whose last post inspired this post) People born under the sign of the Rooster are hardworking, funny, trustworthy and talented.

I’m not hardworking, at times am funny, almost always trustworthy, and have latent talents that get laid but never hatched.

This Rooster year started off with a cold virus that delights roaming the cozy recesses of my sinus passages.   It’s day 11 (but who’s counting).  I’ve been a total slug – no energy, no resolve which gives me a perfect excuse for not making New Years’ resolutions.

(The truth be told, I never make resolutions for the New Year – learned long ago that when I inevitably fail to keep a resolution it leads to feeling badly.)  

What energy I have has been directed toward resolving to be more creative this year. 

In preparation I’ve been obsessively reading everything I can find on how to break my creative block and stop procrastinating.

Most everything I read about procrastination indicates that we procrastinate when we don’t want to do something that is not enjoyable.   Being a master procrastinator I also procrastinate with things that bring me enjoyment.

For inspiration, I read blogs of people who write, read or draw daily – all things which bring me enjoyment.  I feel badly I’m not like them  which leads me to read articles on procrastination and meeting goals (I know how to set them, just not meet them).

Finally the article below has liberated me! I know what to blame:

My dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is lazy . . . not me.

images

Creative block here’s neuroscience how to fix it.

by Elizabeth Shockman

“What is it exactly that helps us be creative? What fuels us when we get into an especially productive work flow? What makes the hours disappear when our brains focus on a task?”

“What, in other words, is happening in our brains when we’re being creative?”

“Cognitive neuroscientist Heather Berlin at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says we know a little bit about what’s going on. Berlin studies the neuroscience of imagination, creativity and improvisation. And for those people who might be facing writer’s block? “There’s really no prescribed medication,” Berlin says. “There is no real magic pill.”’

Instead, she says, creativity depends on which part of the brain you might be using.

“When [people] are improvising, there tends to be a pattern of activation where they have decreased activation in a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” Berlin says. “And that part of the brain has to do with your sense of self, your sort of inner critic, making sure that your behavior conforms to social norms.”

“Translation? When you’re at your most creative, “basically you lose your sense of self,” Berlin says. “You kind of release your inhibition. The second you become too self-aware that comes back online and you lose that flow state.”’

“In addition to losing inhibitions, people who are in a creative state have increased activation in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, which has to do with the internal generation of ideas. In other words, the ideas are coming from within.”

“Some people, when they’re in the flow state … a lot of people say ‘It feels like it’s flowing through me. It’s coming from someplace else,’ you know, ‘It’s coming so naturally I don’t even have to think about it,’” Berlin says. “It’s called liberation without attention. You can only keep a certain number of variables in mind when you’re thinking about something consciously. But if you let it go, you actually can come to a greater understanding because the unconscious can do much more complex processing.”

“For those suffering from creative block, Berlin has some practical advice:”

“You have to take in all the information and then go for a walk,” Berlin says. “Go out, do something else. Because those people who sit there and just obsess over thinking about it too much, using your prefrontal cortex you’re actually limiting yourself. So letting it go can actually help you get over, let’s say a writer’s block or a creative block.”

I’d go for a walk but I have a cold.  Maybe some other time . . .

 

 

Neuroscience – 4 easy & fast things to do to boost happiness

Brain research is both shifting and validating common knowledge. This article by Jon Spayde in the United Health Care bulletin is worth posting AND READING in it’s entirety.

How to get happy in a hurry, according to neuroscience

By Jon Spayde

“. . . Time.com blogger Eric Barker lists four rapid, in-the-moment ways to feel happy – he calls them “rituals” – based on recent neuroscience, and featured in a new book by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb: “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”‘

“1. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. A warm house, a pet you love, your success at Minecraft? Whatever. Gratitude, says Korb, boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the two most powerful neurotransmitter chemicals involved in giving you a feeling of calm and well-being. “Know what Prozac does?” asks Barker. “Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.” And don’t worry if you can’t immediately find things to be grateful for, Korb says. The mental search for gratitude alone will begin to elevate the level of those pleasure chemicals”.

DSCN6251
One-liner doodle – WE ARE ALL CONNECTED

“2. Label negative feelings. Simply saying to yourself “I’m sad” or “I’m anxious” seems like a pretty paltry happiness strategy. But here’s what Korb writes: “…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled ‘Putting Feelings into Words,’ participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala [the brain’s fight-or-flight alarm bell] activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”‘

“3. Make a decision. Just deciding to do something can reduce worry and anxiety right away. Korb: “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world – finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”‘

“But what about making the “right” decision? Isn’t that stressful? Korb counsels letting go of perfectionism. The “good enough” decision is…well, good enough to make our brains go into at-ease mode. “We don’t just choose the things we like,” says Korb. “We also like the things we choose.”‘

“4. Touch people (appropriately).One of the primary ways to release oxytocin [the pleasure-inducing ‘cuddle chemical’] is through touching,” Korb writes. “Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often.”‘

“A hug is particularly effective, he says, mobilizing oxytocin against that alarm-bell amygdala. And if you don’t have anybody to hug, go get a massage: “The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels.”‘

United Health Care

If you want to remember – Forgeta bout it!

I’m so smart.  I’ve been employing this strategy for years!  The only problem is when I remember what I forgot, I forget why I needed to remember what I forgot to remember.

gettyimages-475158629edit_slide-4874e948fe7a268e4ff21523af7a56cdfcc5dfe9-s800-c85

Leigh Wells/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Trying To Remember Multiple Things May Be The Best Way To Forget Them

by CHRIS BENDEREV

“A new scientific model of forgetting is taking shape, which suggests keeping multiple memories or tasks in mind simultaneously can actually erode them.”

“Neuroscientists already knew that memories can interfere with and weaken each other while they are locked away in the recesses of long-term memory. But this new model speaks to what happens when multiple memories are coexisting front and center in our minds, in a place called “working memory.”‘
“It argues that when we let multiple memories come to mind simultaneously, those memories immediately lock into a fierce competition with each other.” When these memories are tightly competing for our attention the brain steps in and actually modifies those memories,” says Jarrod Lewis-Peacock, a neuroscientist at UT Austin.”

“The brain crowns winners and losers. If you ended up remembering the milk and forgetting the phone call, your brain strengthens your memory for getting milk and weakens the one for phoning your friend back, so it will be easier to choose next time you’re faced with that dilemma.”

It’s a strain on my brain

to remember

whether it’s June, July or December

Multiple memories,

lots of tasks

my brain crowns the winner

which I reward with dinner

Eats I never forget

Food being a permanent mind set

P.S. I forgot to tell you that you can read the entire article by clicking on the title above.

 

 

 

 

“S” is for Stroke of Insight

“One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness  . . . ”

One of the best TEDTalks EVER!  VIVID, moving.

Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor studied her own stroke as it happened.

“How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I’ve gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career.” — Jill Bolte Taylor

“Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the “Singin’ Scientist.”

 

Highjacked

I eat all the leftovers in the refrigerator.  I make a batch of brownies from a mix and eat the batter slowly, very slowly, breathing in the chocolately aroma, feeling the slightly gritty grains of batter between my tongue and roof of my mouth.  Spoonful by spoonful the intense sweetness permeates every sense of my being.  I eat all the batter because turning on the oven is too complicated and not understanding what temperature or how long they need to bake too dangerous.

I search all the kitchen cupboards. The only thing left that is edible is a box of Saltine crackers and ketchup, necessities of life when you are a student and working your way through college.  Intently focused, I carefully break the crackers apart into their neat little squares and slowly, carefully arrange them on a plate.  It takes time to  decorate them with swirls and globs of ketchup before I carefully spread the red with the tines of a fork marveling at the artistic lines I’m creating in the ketchup.

tumblr_low7rldARv1qhr40c“Taste this – they’re delicious, like the best pizza ever.” I walk slowly, carefully balancing the plate, into the living room toward my roommate Shelly who’s sitting on our Salvation Army couch, her feet propped up on the wooden spool coffee table that once held wire cable for telephone repair and abandoned on a Berkeley street corner. 

“Taste these – just like pizza, they are delicious,” I repeat, shoving the plate into Shelley’s line of vision as she blankly stares in the direction of the orange paper-mache flower in the milk carton that decorates the wooden spool.   Mechanically, and without the enthusiasm I think warranted, she chews slowly, very slowly, silently, reflectively.  Not waiting for her response I eat the rest of the pizza crackers while carrying the plate back to the kitchen to make more.

gourmet pizza ingredients
gourmet pizza ingredients

How Marijuana Highjacks Your Brain To Give You The Munchies

by Angus Chen

“Shortly after toking up, a lot of marijuana users find that there’s one burning question on their minds: “Why am I so hungry?” Researchers have been probing different parts of the brain looking for the root cause of the marijuana munchies for years. Now, a team of neuroscientists [led by Tamas Horvath at the Yale School of Medicinereport that they have stumbled onto a major clue buried in a cluster of neurons they thought was responsible for making you feel full.”

“An effect when cannibus is introduced in the brain . . . “creates a kind of runaway hungry effect. “Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger,” Horvath says. It’s a bit like slamming down on the brakes and finding weed has turned it into another gas pedal.

” . . .  Last year, researchers foundthat cannabinoids lit up the brain’s olfactory center, making mice more sensitive to smells. Before that, other researchers discovered cannabinoids were increasing levels of dopamine in the brain; that’s the swoon that comes with eating tasty things.”

“For anyone who’s experienced it — you realize that’s exactly what’s happening,” he [Horvath] chuckles. “You just can’t stop, no matter how much you put in your mouth.”

. . . and I might add . . .  

You just can’t stop no matter 

WHAT you put in your mouth.

To read the entire article click here


 

 

Brain-to-brain communication has arrived.

The “stuff” of science-fiction is no longer fiction.

“You may remember neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis — he built the brain-controlled exoskeleton that allowed a paralyzed man to kick the first ball of the 2014 World Cup. What’s he working on now? Building ways for two minds  to send messages brain to brain. Watch to the end for an experiment that, as he says, will go to “the limit of your imagination.”‘

My bathroom mirror isn’t the only thing that’s foggy

The reason my memory isn’t as good as it used to be is because the longer I live the more data is stored so it takes longer for my brain to sort it all out – like when I walk into the bathroom, can’t remember why and leave.  

I have tens of thousands of kilobytes of bathroom memory” stored: take a shower, read a magazine, brush my teeth, get an aspirin, read another magazine, put on lipstick . . .  My brain has to search decades of stored data.  It usually finds the reason within 20 minutes or so before I embarrass myself.

A judy rat
A judy rat, young man

I was excited to read that “Researchers found they could stop normal, age-related memory loss in rats by treating them with riluzole already on the market as a treatment for ALS.

another judy rat, child
Another judy rat, little girl

By examining the neurological changes that occurred after riluzole treatment, . . . researchers “discovered one way in which the brain’s ability to reorganize itself — its neuroplasticity — can be marshaled to protect it against some of the deterioration that can accompany old age, at least in rodents,

Another judy rat, female
Another judy rat, teen age girl

After 17 weeks of treatment, the researchers tested the rats’ spatial memory . . . and found they performed better than their untreated peers, and almost as well as young rats!!

 

Another judy rat, male
Another judy rat, old man

I’ve printed the article so I can read it the next time I’m in the bathroom and can’t remember why.

If you want a copy for your bathroom click

Existing Drug, Riluzole, may Prevent Foggy ‘Old Age’ Brain

 

 

What Happens When Your Brain Doesn’t Sleep?

I think my brain is suffering:  Impaired Wit, Cerebral shrinkage, Eating binges, Hallucinations, Risky decisions, Anger, Lost memories, False memories, Head-in-the-clouds, slurred speech are some of the impacts from diminished or non-restorative sleep.

However, I won’t tell you which of those my brain is suffering from.  You’ll have to read my blog posts to figure it out.

I can’t read this chart.  The print is too small so click here for a larger image: What Sleep Deprivation Does to Your Brain.

How sleep impacts the brain
How sleep impacts the brain

I wonder if diminished sleep and diminished eyesight are related . . . .

Only watch this if you sleep. On second thought – watch this if you DON’T sleep

Did you know your brain creates waste all day and gets rid of waste all night? Not enough sleep may be a key to Alzheimer’s disease research.

“The brain uses a quarter of the body’s entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body’s mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.”

 

How many times have I TOLD you to do something creative!?

I’ve reposted almost the entire NPR article for you because you might not remember how to

click here to access the URL.  You’re Welcome.

mandela 11
Detail of a Mandela, by Ida

“Brain training is big business, with computerized brain games touted as a way to help prevent memory loss. But new research shows you might be better off picking up a challenging new hobby.”

“To test this theory, Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, randomly assigned 200 older people to different activities. Some learned digital photography. Another group took up quilting.”

Quilting, which requires measuring and calculating, also helped improve participants' memory.

Quilting, which requires measuring and calculating, also helped improve participants’ memory.

Courtesy of UT Dallas

“Quilting may not seem like a mentally challenging task,” Park says. “But if you’re a novice and you’re cutting out all these abstract shapes, it’s a very demanding and complex task.”

“The groups spent 15 hours a week for three months learning their new skills. They were then given memory tests and compared with several control groups.”

First Magnolia by Cathy
” First Magnolia by Cathy

‘”Rather than just comparing them to people who did nothing, we compared them to a group of people who had fun but weren’t mentally challenged as much,” Park says”.

“That “social group” did things like watch movies or reminisce about past vacations. Another control group worked quietly at home, listening to the radio or classical music or playing easy games and puzzles.”

“Park’s research, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that not all activities are created equal.”

“Only people who learned a new skill had significant gains.”

‘”We found quite an improvement in memory, and we found that when we tested our participants a year later, that was maintained,” Park says”.

“The greatest improvement was for the people who learned digital photography and Photoshop — perhaps, Park says, because it was the most difficult.”

“So how does learning a new skill help ward off dementia? By strengthening the connections between parts of your brain, says cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. While brain games improve a limited aspect of short-term memory, Kaufman says, challenging activities strengthen entire

Icicles, by Ida
” Icicles, by Ida

networks in the brain.”

‘”It really is strengthening the connectivity between these team players of these large-scale brain networks,” he says.”

“Denise Park likens it to an orchestra.”

“Players come in and players go out,” she says. “Sometimes when something is really demanding, the whole orchestra is playing, but they’re not playing harmoniously.”

“The goal is to keep each individual player in best form, and make sure there’s coordination. And improving your own coordination, through quilting or learning to play bridge, may be a way to maintain your memory, and have a bit of fun, too.”

‘”We hope that by maintaining a very active brain, you could defer cognitive aging by a couple of years,” Park says.”

“There’s one more important thing you can do to ward off memory loss: exercise. Art Kramer, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, studies the impact of exercise on the brain”.

“In one study, he found that just 45 minutes of exercise three days a week actually increased the volume of the brain. Even for people who have been very sedentary, Kramer says, exercise “improves cognition and helps people perform better on things like planning, scheduling, multitasking and working memory.””

“So if you’re looking to boost memory, there’s reason to challenge both your body and your mind.”‘

I won’t say I TOLD you so . . .

Sleeping on the Job

  1. Max’s cough is a bit better today.  No longer honking loudly like a goose and not as frequent.  He’s still not feeling very peppy and his stubbornness (don’t tell him I told you) is stronger than normal.
  2. After little sleep for the past four nights I am a bit more stubborn than usual too.
  3. Based on the study below I must make a DISCLAIMER:

To every client who saw me this week

I cannot be held accountable for anything I said as unbeknownst to me, my brain may have been asleep

even though we both thought I was awake.

by Christine Dell’Amore
National Geographic News
Published April 27, 2011

If you think you can function on minimal sleep, here’s a wake-up call: Parts of your brain may doze off even if you’re totally awake, according to a new study in rats.

Scientists observed the electrical activity of brains in rats forced to stay up longer than usual. Problem-solving brain regions fell into a kind of “local sleep”—a condition likely in sleep-deprived humans too, the study authors say.

Surprisingly, when sections of the rats’ brains entered these sleep like states, “you couldn’t tell that [the rats] are in any way in a different state of wakefulness,” said study co-author Giulio Tononi, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Despite these periods of local sleep, overall brain activity—and the rats’ behaviors—suggested the animals were fully awake.

This phenomenon of local sleep is “not just an interesting observation of unknown significance,” Tononi said. It “actually affects behavior—you make a mistake.”

For example, when the scientists had the rats perform a challenging task—using their paws to reach sugar pellets—the sleep-deprived animals had trouble completing it.

Sleep Allows Neurons to Reset?

Tononi and colleagues recorded the electrical activity of lab rats via electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors connected to the rodents’ heads.
As predicted, when the rats were awake, their neurons—nerve cells that collect and transmit signals in the brain—fired frequently and irregularly.

When the animals slept, their neurons fired less often, usually in a regular up-and-down pattern that manifests on the EEG as a “slow wave.” Called non-rapid eye movement, this sleep stage accounts for about 80 percent of all sleep in both rats and people.

The researchers used toys to distract the rats into staying awake for a few hours—normally “rats take lots of siestas,” Tononi noted.

The team discovered that neurons in two sections of these overtired rats’ cerebral cortexes entered a slow-wave stage that is essentially sleep.

Why Do We Sleep?

It’s unknown why parts of an awake brain nod off, though it may have something to do with why mammals sleep—still an open question, said Tononi, whose study appears tomorrow in the journal Nature. (Read about mysteries of why we sleep in National Geographic magazine.)

According to one leading theory, since neurons are constantly “recording” new information, at some point the neurons need to “turn off” in order to reset themselves and prepare to learn again.

“If this hypothesis is correct, that means that at some point [if you’re putting off sleep] you’re beginning to overwhelm your neurons—you are reaching the limit of how much input they can get.”

So the neurons “take the rest, even if they shouldn’t”—and there’s a price to pay in terms of making “stupid” errors, he said.

“Even if you may feel that you’re fit and fine and are holding up well,” he said, “some parts of your brain may not [be] … and those are the ones that make judgments and decisions.”

STUBBORN! Humph, that’s putting it mildly.

How to Maintain Optimism in the Face of Reality

This was of personal (and professional) interest to me given that the last several days I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.  Seems my brain’s left inferior frontal gyrus was not gyrating.

P.s.  Be patient while the video loads.  If you don’t like what Tali says you will like how she looks (certainly not like a stereo-type neuroscientist).

“Optimism bias is the belief that the future will be better, much better, than the past or present. And most of us display this bias. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot wants to know why: What is it about our brains that makes us overestimate the positive? She explores the question in her book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.
In the book (and a 2011 TIME magazine cover story), she reviewed findings from both social science and neuroscience that point to an interesting conclusion: “our brains aren’t just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future.”

In her own work, she’s interested in how our natural optimism actually shapes what we remember, and her interesting range of papers encompasses behavioral research (how likely we are to misremember major events) as well as medical findings — like searching for the places in the brain where optimism lives. Sharot is a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences at University College London.”

“What you pay attention to GROWS” and not just for monkeys


Dr David Bresler
Dr Marty Rossman

I’ve had the incredible fortune of studying under David Bresler  Ph.D and Marty Rossman M.D.  Both are pioneers in the field of MindBody Medicine.   They founded The Academy for Guided Imagery, a teaching academy for health care professionals to provide treatment using individualized one-on-one imagery for health and wellness.

Not only did they train me to teach Interactive Guided Imagery(sm) they introduced me to a different way of thinking and experiencing my world.

Many of you already know that I keep ranting and raving about the power of our minds and not to dwell on the negative, not to focus on what we can’t do but on what we are capable of.  SO!  When I came across this article by Dr Rossman I HAD to share!!

Shifting Your Attention Can Change Your Brain

from The Worry Solution by Martin Rossman, M.D.

“Repetitively shifting your attention to positive outcomes may actually result in growth in areas of your brain that start to do this automatically. My colleague, neuroscientist Dr. David Bresler, always says that

“what you pay attention to grows” and research proves him correct.

Neuroscience journalist Sharon Begley wrote in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, “Attention, … seems like one of those ephemeral things that comes and goes in the mind but has no real physical presence. Yet attention can alter the layout of the brain as powerfully as a sculptor’s knife can alter a slab of stone.

Not to be confused for either Dr Bresler or Dr Rossman

” She describes an experiment at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in which scientists “rigged up a device that tapped monkeys’ fingers 100 minutes a day every day. As this bizarre dance was playing on their fingers, the monkeys heard sounds through headphones. Some of the monkeys were taught: Ignore the sounds and pay attention to what you feel on your fingers…Other monkeys were taught: Pay attention to the sound.”

After six weeks, the scientists compared the monkeys’ brains and found that monkeys paying attention to the taps had expanded the somatosensory parts of their brains (where they would feel touch) but the monkeys paying attention to the sounds grew new connections in the parts of the brain that process sound instead.

UCSF researcher Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote that through choosing where we place our attention, “‘We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves.'”

I promise I won’t say “I told you so.”

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