Archives for category: brain

BBC’s most shared news stories in 2012. Full listing below.

A recent New York Times article aimed to shed some light on why we share the type of news that we do.

Through analysing the brains and emails/social posts of New York Times readers, it’s been found that good news is spread more quickly and more widely than sad news.

“Buzzworthy” articles were shared the most, which neuroscientists saw reflected in the brain activity associated with social cognition — that is, thoughts about other people.

“Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important,” says Dr Emily Falk from the University of Michigan.

Also of note, the coolest, most awe-inspiring science articles are much more likely to be shared than non-science articles, as you can see reflected in many of the ‘most shared’ news stories from 2012 to now:

The Guardian’s ‘Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’

BBC ‘Chocolate May Keep People Slim’

Daily Mail ‘Artist Turns Dead Cat Into Helicopter’ 

BBC ‘Driving School For Dogs In New Zealand’

BBC’s super-shared stories of 2012

Journalism.co.uk’s top 10 most shared news on Facebook in 2012

Yahoo!UK’s most shared news – live

Like!

the rescuing hug

‘The Rescuing Hug’ – This picture is of two week old twins who were in separate incubators, and one was not expected to live. A hospital nurse fought agast the hospital rules and placed the babies together in one incubator. The healthier of the two threw her arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart rate stabilised and her temperature rose to normal.

As someone whose nickname was ‘squeeze’ when I was a little girl, I can attest to loving a hug.

But recently, hugs have started to reveal their health effects.

Studies have shown that hugging has been shown to release oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”, in particularly high quantities following positive social interactions (like hugging). Oxytocin is key to boosting trust, sociability, and triggering maternal instincts while lessening anxiety and social fear.

However in 2010, hugging got an upgrade to a healing activity.

A study among couples found that increases in oxytocin following hugs correlated with faster wound healing. The hypothesis was that oxytocin reduces inflammation, thus allowing the wound to heal more quickly.

The study also showed that people who said they felt more social and spousal support and had more hugs and massages had higher oxytocin levels than those who reported less support and physical intimacy.

For man’s best friend, patting your pet also boost oxytocin (for canine and man alike!), and emailing loved ones has the same effect.

Providing doses of oxytocin has also been shown to result in more positive than negative behaviours during disagreements with your partner, confirming prior evidence that oxytocin  affects couples’ positive and negative communication behaviours. Read more on the study here. It also can improve communication skills for autistic children if provided in doses.

So what are you waiting for?

Do as Hunter and Collectors say.

Go find a squeeze.

Hugs are the universal medicine. 

~Author Unknown

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It came as quite a shock to many to hear of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to call back its thousands of remote workers to the slave yards (albeit very nice slave yards, no doubt) for the 9-to-5 grind.

Many at first glance (myself included) thought it sounded a death knell for the modern, flexible workplace: if industry trendsetters like Yahoo! aren’t into it, my employer just got grounds to haul my ass back into the fluorescent lighted, open-plan, modern factory for over 40 hours of my working week.

The giddy enlightenment that many modern employers were beginning to realise – that the happiness, and longevity of their employees at their companies is inextricably linked to their work-life balance, ability to see their families, and prioritise other important things like their health, (not to mention the key element of inherent trust it implies between colleagues) – seemed smacked in the face by such a decision.

And when Google piped-up to back Mayer’s call, it really felt like a backflip into old-school, big business rules, where dollars rule people, and your people come second.

But, while it might seem a shame these industry giants are opening these familiar doors once again, the reason could well be valid.

Huge, bloated, and with unhealthy vital signs, Yahoo! is like an overweight person at risk of a business cardiac – it needs to trim the fat, stat.

And the cause of the disease appears be one that is ages old, and that is a diagnosis of ‘social loafing’.

Social loafing was a term crowned by social psychologist Max Ringelmann in 1913 when he noticed that a group working together collectively produced less. The reason for this was not only poor coordination, but crucially a lack of motivation.

Later tests further showed that people will ‘social loaf’ if the goal is meaningless to them, and if individual input is not identifiable as part of the whole.

(Those of you who are measured by both group and individual performance in your workplace may now see why).

Other interesting outcomes showed;

– The magnitude of social loafing is reduced for women and for individuals originating from Eastern cultures.
– Individuals are more likely to loaf when their co-workers are expected to perform well.
– Individuals reduce social loafing when working with acquaintances and do not loaf at all when they work in highly valued groups.

So if all the above is true, how we end up on this road to remote working?

The theory goes that when we find work difficult, others presence is distracting, making work harder still (hello open plan offices!). But where our work is easy and fairly boring, having others present acts as a drive, forcing ourselves to compete (even if working independently). When two people work on the same goal this is even more pronounced: most animals will eat, run, and even procreate at an accelerated rate of productivity in the presence of other. Insert gym buddy here.

Perhaps initially the work at Yahoo! was challenging enough to allow workers this much space to roam. And then things got too easy…

Hopefully for Mayer, the effects of drive theory from the company’s new workspace will kick in soon.

Hopefully for us, the flow-on effects of this flexi recall don’t tip the delicate gains in flexible working for us mere mortals not located in Silicon Valley.

Drive and motivation for many people can also reside in the hope that we won’t have to spend ever day of the average 13000 working days in our lives chained to a desk.

Sickie, anyone?

Your snout is able to determine over 10,000 different smells using about 500 nasal receptors.

However for some people, smell is but a memory.

They are unable to smell a whiff of anything and this total loss of smell is known as anosmia.

It currently affects around 5% of the US population, which means there are around 16 million people unable to smell leaking gas, smoke, or even worse, themselves (resulting often, undertandably, in some level of social anxiety).

As well as that, they sometimes can’t taste the flavours in food.

Your brain portion that controls smell is located at the base of your skull, so even mild head injuries to the back of the head can result in anosmia, however this is often temporary.

But for those whose smell never returns, hallucination of smells can form in their place where people think they smell coffee, smoke or other alarming substances even when there is none.

Hallucinated smells of a particularly vile smell kind are called cacosmia as described by Bonnie Blodgett in her book ‘Remembering Smell’ where she was plunged into a flurry of terrible smells from rotten eggs to chemicals, mould and sick.

On a more positive note, there have been recent studies to suggest that those who have a good sense of smell are more emotionally sensitive (thought to be because the two areas of the brain related to emotion and sense are in the limbic system), and science has taken steps closer to proving the simple truth that a memory can be triggered by a smell due to the proximity of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotional memory) to the hypothalamus and olfactory tracts (nose!).

So if you can smell the roses, be thankful. Some people are getting noses full of nothing, or worse.

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Facts found in Oliver Sacks’ newest book ‘Hallucinations’.

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Love can come in the most curious forms.

In his latest book ‘Hallucinations’, Oliver Sacks tells a story about his patient, Gertie C., who suffers intense visual hallucinations as a result of Parkinson’s postencephalictic disease – or ‘frozen’ disease (as described in Sacks’ book and film ‘Awakenings’).

Sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, hallucinations are an offshoot of the disease which is thought to be due to a build up of proteins in the parts of your brain that deals with sight and movement.

After some distress at her visualisations, Gertie decides to submit to the oddities her brain conjures, and embrace the experience instead…

In the form of a hallucinatory gentleman caller.

Every night, he arrives faithfully on her doorstep with flowers, presents, love and warm companionship.

Who says love isn’t real?

Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Bad day at the office?

In the Olympics, if you choke, it’s 4 years ’til your next review.

Canadian swimming psychologist Hap Davis made his athletes watch video re-runs of their failures on repeat and scanned their brains to see what was going on under the lid.

Initially when watching the video, high level blood flow to their amydala (responsible for emotions) and low-level to their motor cortices (where movement is executed). This likely reflected their physical reaction at the time.

Once they talked it through and explained the feelings of the race, he asked them to re-watch the race.

This time, blood flow to the amydala and pre-frontal cortex (which controls planning) was less, and blood flow to the motor cortex more.

Effectively, talking it out took away the negative emotion.

Who knew?

Image courtesy of Justin Metz at Newsweek.

Been online for 8 hours today?

Churning through emails, checking Facebook, posting Powerpoints, playing with pixels?

Guess what.

You’re brain is on crack.

MRI scans in the US and China are showing that people who spend 38 hours a week online (that’s not hard) are producing brains that look like drug addicts’.

The grey stuff (the smart stuff that controls motor function, memory, emotion, senses and more) shrinks by up to 10-20%, and the white stuff (involved in spreading messages quicker, attention and decision matter) grows in its place.

Your cerebral cortex, the part responsible for thought, changes shape. And it can start to morph after a week of practice. And it continues to.

So we’re becoming quicker thinkers. But we can’t remember about what.

And we pay more attention to that cat video, but can’t tell someone why it’s funny.

Same goes for gamers; speed, agility and skill vs smiles, memories and living in that weird thing called reality.

The advice from the doctor? Switch off.

More on this at Newsweek.com

How People Spend Their Time Online

According to trendwatching.com, 2012 is the year when we’ll all crave a little solitude. Switching off from life’s littanys, loves and ‘likes’ is just what we’re all secretly craving, they say.

The US average time spent daily online of 62 minutes vs a stolen snippet of morning meditation just doesn’t quite redress the imbalance.

Last year, Swedish telecoms provider Telia launched a free download that enabled customers to disable the internet for a set period of time at home and also set up internet-free zones in several public locations across Sweden.

Why? We’re too contactable. And too addicted.

Internet addiction will be listed in the Psychology Disorder Almanac, DSM V, as a listed psychological problem as of next year. But that means most people I know are sick sick sick.

We’re not at fault for communicating constantly all day, everyday. In fact the genius of the internet and social media is that it’s flattering the one thing humans love doing most; chatting, gossiping, storytelling and beating our own chests. It’s actually highly caveman behaviour. Just with more hashtags. And keys.

But now the internet is having its way with us. From young net addicts performing Fuicide to the  ‘Kony 2012‘ producer losing his marbles from ‘reactive psychosis’ due to net-addiction, our brains are screaming out for more time off. Even a holiday isn’t a holiday anymore unless your phone is switched off too.

So who’s going to lead/jump onto this ‘disconnection’ idea? After all, a break means you’ll have more energy to post with more punch afterwards, right?

So, on the count of three, join me and turn close your computer and go and see the real world.

One,

Two,

Still here, right??

Three. You’re hooked.

Read more about it at Newsweek.com

Tom Daley

Tom Daley missed a medal ranking today

This Olympic Games have shown some serious grit from British athletes.

In the wash of narrowly coming 4th, 5th and or even last, they bowl up to an expectant BBC camera, look down it, and vow solemnly one of these lines straight out of Sports Psychology 101:

‘It was the journey, not the destination’

‘This is just a bump in the road’

‘Obviously I’d have liked to have done better but I’m happy with that’

‘It’s just great to be here’

etc etc

All while beaming, shrugging their shoulders, and seeming generally 150% ok with that.

Really?? After HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of tedious, lonely, painful, stressful, sometimes boring, sober, early, late, long, hours of training… that’s your gut reaction?!

That’s medal-worthy if you ask me.

How about some Andy Murray tears?? We’d understand! Really, we would.

You’ve just not entered the history books in front of your home crowd. We’d understand a quivering lower lip.

There must be some gun sports psychologists led by Dr Mark Bawden, who is also the head sports psychologist at the EIS.

Oop, just seen on the Beebs – they fudged the starter gun in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final so the girls had to wait for techies to fix it.

Just another hurdle to jump!

 

‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ is a tasty insight into the French way of rearing children who eat all their greens (and fois gras), sleep through the night, play happily on their own, and say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ more regularly than any Anglo adult you probably know.

New York-raised Pamela Druckerman noticed these differences whilst living in Paris with her English husband over some years, and her drill-down into how these somewhat magnificent marvels of children evolve is an excellent insight into competing Western parenting ideologies.

French parenting is loosely but largely based on two philosophical bases; the first is Rousseau, whose books ‘Emile’ and ‘On Education’ are still widely regarded in France as the basis of much of their approach to parenting. Through these texts he appealed that a child should be free to explore and discover the world, and let his senses gradually ‘awaken’.

This helps explains to Druckerman what she initially considers to be the strange behaviour of her French friends, who take their two year olds to swimming lessons not to swim, but to learn to enjoy the pleasure of the water… until they’re six (!) and then they start classes. Similarly, gym classes are not for learning triple tucks but for learning to explore their bodies. This couldn’t be further from the Anglo perspective of Piaget’s stage theory, whereby every parent tries to make their child learn things from the get-go in order to evolve their development. The French say, “childhood is so short, why speed it up?”.

The flip-side of Rousseau’s theory is that kids need strict boundaries (so that they can frolick, but safely). What makes kids miserable and tantrums is that they get what they want to such a degree that they don’t know what they want… and they are miserably confused. And noisy about it. “This unaccustomed refusal will give him more torment than being deprived of what he desires… Education is a firm cadre, and inside is liberty,” he says.

As such, a mother’s use of the word “non” is hugely respected by French children because of the way mothers use the word “yes” more of than not. Authoritative as a pose to authoritarian parenting means that children are controlled by a strictness which is an education – a constant gentle tuition of why you do/don’t do thing – and not a punishment. (Although, they do let slip the power of “les gros yeux”, the bigyeyes, whereby mothers can shoot just a look and the kid obeys.)

Also, they allow little discrepancies, one of which is the phrase “Caca Boudin” – which basically means, “poo sausage”. Parents allow kids to mutter, yell or name anything this (within reason) as an acknowledgment that kids have their own little frustrated moments that need airing on occasion. But mostly, aside from harm-prevention, French parents are fairly hands-off and let kids roam around the playground (they don’t hover over the plaything). If they fall, they fall and will be more careful next time.

“The most important thing is that a child will be, in full security, autonomous as possible,” says the number one French parenting guru Francoise Dolto, whose parenting tips from the late 1960s are known as well as Dr Spock’s are in any Western household but for some reason didn’t cross the Channel. In essence,  she believed that a child, a baby, is a rational being. At bedtime, you can speak to a three month old that they must go to sleep, that this is good for them, and that you’ll see them in the morning…. and viola! They are sleeping through the night just like that.

Crucial to this however is the idea of “La Pause” – the idea that French parents do not jump to their child’s crying or spoken demands – they wait for even just a minute or two, (more like 10 minutes at nighttimes) and then calmly attend to them. They believe this teaches a child patience which is crucial to create civiil human being; children cannot learn how to deal with life’s little frustrations if they’re not gently tested this way from the beginning. It also teaches them to wait, and in the interim, to learn to amuse themselves by distracting themselves from the immediate waiting period (ie playing by itself in a cot).

As for food, well perhaps not surprisingly, French parents make the sensory pleasure of eating key to a child’s life. They will steam, puree, roast, pickle and season vegetables any which way until the child understands its many forms, and, eventually of course, likes it. The child must not necessarily finish the food, but they must taste all of it. Also, from the age of 4 months, they eat with the family meals – breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner. And that’s it. The result is most often that the kids are bloody hungry come meal time and will also help to encourage them to eat whatever is there.

But the best, best, best part about this book concerns the preservation of the parents. Ok, so the fully-funded creche and kindies allow mothers to return to work whilst providing wonderful environments for children to interact and grow. (The meals they serve these tots are envy-making too; think Michelin star for kids. But also, French mothers choose to feel no guilt about preserving time for themselves. So much so that they will book their kid in for an extra hour/day per week to read a book, do their hair, or see their husband. When it all gets a bit much, they won’t beat themselves up and say “Oh I’m such a bad mother”. Instead they say to one another “The perfect mother does not exist”. And poof! The guilt is gone.

Above all, the kid understands that though they are loved beyond all measure, the time between mums and dads is precious too, and they are not the centre of the universe. And so, the family balance (and sanity) is preserved.

Get your copy here.

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