Archives for category: Senses

 

neuroeconomics

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

Have you ever wondered why you like your favourite restaurant?

At the sight of it alone, your brain does into overdrive releasing its favourite yummy drug, dopamine.

This key ingredient helps our brain know what we like, what we choose to buy/do/eat etc, activating reward pathways and helping us remember and learn each time what we like and don’t like.

But how?

Dopamine neurons helps us to know our predicted utility – i.e. based on your past experiences, what you expect to get out of a good meal at your favourite restaurant. Is it the wine? Is it the food? Is it the waiter/ress??

However, when that’s interrupted, or the cue isn’t as we expected, (for example if we experience bad food, or poor service) then we encounter  a prediction error signal – a readjustment – and our brain learns. See the red lines above.

We learn not to go back there next time expecting the same quality meal.

So it’s quite nifty really. Dopamine helps us to modify our expectations and consequently change our behaviour, allowing us to learn to make different – and maybe better – decisions next time we see our favourtite restaurant, so we also don’t keep making the same mistakes.

decision making process in the brain

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

Full rights and credits to the content extracted here from Dr Vasily Klucharev’s course ‘Introduction to Neuroeconomics; how the brain makes decisions’ through the National Research University Russia. Available now as an online learning course through Coursera.com. For more information please head to https://www.coursera.org/course/neuroec

 

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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Flipper is a smart fish.

Not only can he do my favourite trick of warding off sharks, but he also uses his sleep time with an effectiveness most new parents can only dream of.

When sleeping, dolphins can’t afford the luxury of physically stopping for a kip. Instead they need to keep swimming, and crucially breathing, to stay alive.

So how do they sleep?

Scientists have found that they actually manage to switch off half their brain, so that the active part can control swimming and breathing, while the rest rests.

Better than that, they team up in pairs to sleep, switching off the respective inner hemispheres (halves) of their brains, so that the outer halves are alert for predators, attack, Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan etc.

Talk about teamwork.

Check out this highly educational video offering rare insight into dolphins and their brains at work.

Note, if you do not find this funny, we prescribe that you need more sleep.

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.

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?hl=en&tbo=d&biw=1063&bih=580&tbm=isch&tbnid=Qf4Q1xQq7Ouo6M:&imgrefurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-sense/201003/i-hit-my-head-and-i-cant-smell-thing&docid=SJ5eWnXwWl84aM&imgurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u610/olf.gif&w=338&h=300&ei=2LciUZa7Heqa1AXGooGABA&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:88,s:0,i:351&iact=rc&dur=2350&sig=104541046096363718316&page=7&tbnh=182&tbnw=238&start=79&ndsp=15&tx=179&ty=69

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?

 

‘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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