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Cognitive Trauma: What you need to know

Cognitive trauma in relation to brain impairment is not something that is greatly known, due to its diminishing characteristics that create deep-rooted effects. However, in recent years there has been more and more research conducted that indeed reveals insight into this neuropsychological dilemma. This article, in particular, will outline the whole idea revolving around cognitive trauma in neuropsychology, what is cognitive trauma, effects of cognitive trauma, problems derived from cognitive trauma, tips on dealing with cognitive trauma.

Introduction to Cognitive Trauma

Cognitive Trauma: Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

The neuropsychology field turns to be flooded with cognitive development in regards to traumatic brain injuries. As stated in the Cambridge University Press, “well-recovered individuals who had sustained a minor trauma more than half a decade ago continue to have long-term cognitive sequelae relevant for everyday social and professional life” (Konrad et al, 2011, p. 1197). Such concealed, and yet evident findings into cognitive trauma and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) help gain insight from various doctors and in return use it as a primary source to represent the development across the field. On the other hand, many doctors find the information revolving around cognitive trauma conditions to be minimal. As sometimes the determination of whether or not permanent brain withdrawal is present can be unsubstantial.

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There is a rising occurrence of TBI’s and cognitive trauma in military personnel, and they are also becoming more prominent in the war zone and terrorist attack victims too (Risdall & Menon, 2011). Traumatic brain injuries, in particular, are something that happens due to direct contact with the head, often causing some type of cognitive trauma. For instance, something such as an accident or explosion could result in a blow to the head developing the potential for cognitive trauma in an individual. This is particularly prevalent in military personnel within war zones due to the constant turmoil and upheaval occurring around them. However, it’s the symptoms that follow a TBI that can be particularly uncomfortable and challenging. When faced with this adversity certain things such as cognitive trauma conditions can start to play a part. The big question that many people often want to know now is whether traumatic brain injuries can directly cause cognitive trauma conditions? Without the slightest doubt, cognitive trauma conditions are quite prevalent in some cases specifically in military war conditions. “TBI is rarely an isolated finding in this setting, and persistent post-concussive symptoms are commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, a constellation of findings that have been called the polytrauma clinical triad” (Risdall & Menon, 2011, p. 241).

Cognitive Trauma: Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

First and foremost, after a TBI instance occurs an individual needs to be checked out immediately by an appropriate professional health care provider to determine the course of treatment. This is something that many patients are unaware of, as a TBI requires additional treatment after the incident that most likely will be needed for the remainder of the patient’s lifetime. The typical approach for treatment post TBI involves a bold approach of ICP monitoring for serious cases, where it scientifically increases the overall result of recovery and diminishment of overall cognitive trauma (Stein, Georgoff, Meghan, Mirza & El Falaky, 2010). A brain injury and cognitive trauma coinciding is something that can really impact an individual for the rest of their life. Between managing the symptoms and dealing with treatment and recovery it can be a hard feat. Managing symptoms is a big task alongside treatment, which can become overwhelming with the numerous courses of rehabilitation. Yet, it’s the alternative treatments that are limited and need to be expanded upon through research. As research into new treatment methods can help provide more sound reasoning into the appropriate ways certain methods can make a difference in cognitive trauma and TBI’s.

Cognitive Trauma: Problems after Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

The most prevalent problems associated with cognitive trauma and TBI consist of:

When an individual experiences a TBI there can often be cognitive problems that arise as a result, due to the injury. Initially one must understand what cognition is in order to explore further, cognition is often described as the thought of knowing. The different types of cognition that will be explored are areas such as, info processing, communication, reasoning, concentration, memory, and control.

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It is important to keep in mind that there are many different aspects of cognition, but for the sake of how TBI’s can affect cognition these will be specifically addressed. When an individual has a TBI it is often the after effects that cause the most issues, this is where info processing takes a hit. Following a TBI one’s potential to process something decreases substantially influencing reaction time and other similar avenues. Communication is another dilemma that is faced for victims of TBI’s creating adversity with all things in connection to asserting and comprehending the material.

On top of these two issues is also the halt in concentration making the need to focus a thing of the past. Control and reasoning are another plaguing problems often going hand in hand with one another. Where brash choices are made often due to the lack of being able to identify issues in the first place. It is important to note that not all these problems will occur for every individual that presents with a TBI. Nonetheless, when issues arise it is key to report them to a health care professional to ensure the appropriate treatment measures.

Cognitive Trauma: Current Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Studies

The research that has been done on cognitive trauma relating to TBI’s is relatively sparse and has left a great amount of room for improvement. Initially, a large amount of research that has already been conducted focuses more on cells and sham control for treatment on one end or MRI evaluation on the other.

There was a study conducted by a handful of doctors on cell study in TBI patients properly examined intracerebral effects while also delving into the intravenous application of bone marrow stromal cells (MSCs) with endogenous cellular proliferation following a TBI (Mahmood, Lu & Chopp, 2004). Following, the results that have been discovered are not always conclusive and tend to create some conflicting ideas. It was discovered that that through the proper study of rats this treatment of TBI proved to be successful. Successive TBI in rat subjects established that intracerebral and intravenous MSC dispensation improves endogenous cellular proliferation (Mahmood, Lu & Chopp, 2004, p. 1185).

However, other types of research done found that the results are not an immediate reaction but something that occurs only with the duration of time. In a six month investigative cycle, there was no instantaneous or slowed harmfulness affiliated with cell application. Additionally, not all studies deal with human patients, which makes for insufficient discoveries. Due to the fact that most of the studies conducted have for the most part been done on rat subjects and not all on human subjects, which creates room for error. Lastly, not all aspects of the matter regarding cell study in regards to TBI and cognitive trauma have been fully analyzed.

Cognitive Trauma: The incidence of Cognitive Trauma and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

The overall incidence of cognitive trauma and TBI is only multiplying year after year (Dulac, Lassonde & Sarnat, 2013,p. 891). As behavioral limitations evolve it creates something that all individuals suffering from TBI’s and cognitive trauma misjudge. People that have TBI or cognitive trauma at first don’t always evaluate their situation entirely which creates instances where social situations involving emotions and interactions are turned for a loop. The main cause of this particular issue is due to the alterations that have occurred in “hippocampal, prefrontal cortical, and limbic region function because of alterations in synaptogenesis, dendritic remodeling, and neurogenesis” (Kaplan, Vasterling & Vedak, 2010, p. 427). After a brain injury has occurred various behavioral disorders such as self-awareness become quite prominent. If the frontal lobes of the brain are the source of the TBI a relation between behavioral changes is usually relevant.

Cognitive Trauma: Necessary Development of Research

The various accounts of information that were the result of studies conducted provided some very good insight into the matter. Such concealed, and yet evident findings in traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and also cognitive trauma help gain insight from various doctors and in return use it as a primary source to represent the development across the field. Contrary to all the information that was a gained, the way that individual deals with the instance of a TBI or cognitive trauma are going to be different for each individual.

This research and more and more research adventures down the road are going to open new doors into this field and create a whole new amount of knowledge. Disappointing conclusions are due to the absence of accurate result amounts mingled with the heterogeneity of TBI (Yue et al, 2013). Despite the various efforts over the years to help people with TBI’s and cognitive trauma, more research is without a doubt needed. Over the course of the past 30 years, existing methods into the classification of condition seriousness have yet to evolve (Yue et al, 2013). That being so it creates a necessity to develop new studies so that research can be advanced in a positive direction. This will ultimately help individuals with the strongest effects of TBI and cognitive trauma to help ease the fallbacks of current treatment methods.

Cognitive Trauma Tips

Tips for Dealing with Cognitive Trauma

Learning to live with cognitive trauma is not an easy feat, and hopefully, through useful methods, individuals can cope. One of the most important things that anyone who is suffering from cognitive trauma can do for themselves is seeking out the care of a professional. Through this different types of treatment methods can be discussed leading towards a positive recovery approach. When someone is suffering from cognitive trauma,  one of the most common therapy approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Through CBT there are beneficial approaches that can be made to help treat an individual who suffers from cognitive trauma.

 

References

Dulac, O., Lassonde, M., & Sarnat, H. B. (2013). Traumatic brain injury. Pediatric Neurology, 112, 891.

Kaplan, G. B., Vasterling, J. J., & Vedak, P. C. (2010). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and their comorbid conditions: role in pathogenesis and treatment. Behavioural pharmacology, 21(5-6), 427-437.

Konrad, C., Geburek, A. J., Rist, F., Blumenroth, H., Fischer, B., Husstedt, I., … &  Lohmann, H. (2011). Long-term cognitive and emotional consequences of mild traumatic brain injury. Psychological medicine, 41(6), 1197-1211.       

Mahmood, A., Lu, D., & Chopp, M. (2004). Marrow stromal cell transplantation after traumatic brain injury promotes cellular proliferation within the brain. Neurosurgery, 55(5), 1185-1193.

Parker, R. S. (2012). Traumatic brain injury and neuropsychological impairment: Sensorimotor, cognitive, emotional, and adaptive problems of children and adults. Springer Science & Business Media.

Risdall, J. E., & Menon, D. K. (2011). Traumatic brain injury. Philosophical Transactions of the  Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 366(1562), 241-250.

Stein, S. C., Georgoff, P., Meghan, S., Mirza, K. L., & El Falaky, O. M. (2010). Relationship of aggressive monitoring and treatment to improved outcomes in severe traumatic brain injury. Journal of neurosurgery, 112(5), 1105-1112.

Yue, J. K., Vassar, M. J., Lingsma, H. F., Cooper, S. R., Okonkwo, D. O., Valadka, A. B., … & Puccio, A. M. (2013). Transforming research and clinical knowledge in traumatic brain injury pilot: multicenter implementation of the common data elements for traumatic brain injury. Journal of neurotrauma, 30(22), 1831-1844.

Zhang, Z. X., Guan, L. X., Zhang, K., Zhang, Q., & Dai, L. J. (2008). A combined procedure to deliver autologous mesenchymal stromal cells to patients with traumatic brain injury. Cytotherapy, 10(2), 134-139.

Motion Sickness: An explanation to travelling nausea

As a kid, I never felt motion sick- ever. I would go on the craziest of carnival rides and not feel dizzy one bit. Then a few years ago, I had a severe concussion and suddenly, I felt motion sick anytime I would get in a moving vehicle, train, airplane… even a moving walkway made me feel motion sick. But, why? Turns out it all has to do with the fluid from the inner ear. Check out everything about motion sickness here! What is motion sickness, the different types, symptoms, causes, and treatments? How does it affect the body? How does it affect the brain? What are some tips to prevent it or overcome it?

Motion sickness

 

What is motion sickness?

Kinetosis, the official medical term for motion sickness, is a disagreement between how the body visually perceived movement and how the body’s sensory system senses movement. Essentially, a disagreement between two sensory systems, also known as vestibular systems, within the body.

Motion sickness is known for how ill, nauseous, or bad it can make someone feel and dates back all the way to Greek and Roman times… meaning it isn’t just a new thing. It can affect everyone at different levels of severity. Depending on the cause of the motion sickness, it can also be known as air sickness, sea sickness, car sickness, and simulation sickness.

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Types of motion sickness

There are three types of motion sickness:

1. Motion that is felt, but not seen. This type of motion sickness is sensed by the sensory system which is why the motion is felt. However, the visual system doesn’t detect much, if any, motion. Examples would be car sickness, air sickness, sea sickness, visual reality, and rotating devices (such as a centrifuge).  

2. Motion that is seen but not felt. This type of motion sickness happens because the visual system detects motion, which is why the motion is seen. However, the sensory system doesn’t detect much, if any, motion. It happens due to situations which are known as visually induced motion sickness (VIMS). Examples would be movies/films, visual reality, and space sickness.

3. When both systems feel motion but they don’t correspond. This type of motion sickness happens when one is in an environment where gravity is affected and simulated with centrifugal force. This is known as the Coriolis effect and it causes a sense of motion within the sensory system that doesn’t correspond to the motion that is seen by the visual system. For example, when a vehicle is on a badly maintained road for a long period of time while going slowly, the two senses (sensory and visual) don’t match up. This is because the bad road can jerk a body around which give the sense of extreme motion to the inner ear, but due to the slow speed, the eye doesn’t feel the same amount of motion.  

Symptoms of motion sickness

If you feel motion sick, you’ll know right away that something doesn’t feel right. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Nausea. Interestingly enough, “nausea” means “sea sickness” in Greek, “naus-” means “ship”.
  • Vomiting
  • Increase in saliva production
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Hot flashes
Motion sickness- carsickness

Causes of motion sickness

Motion sickness is caused by a conflict between the different senses that are responsible for registering motion in the brain, the inner ear, the eyes, and the sensory nerves in the skin are all sending different signals to the brain. These different signals are what create dizziness. After a while, these signals create what we know to be motion sickness.

Some people begin to feel motion sickness while reading in a moving vehicle. This is because the eyes are focused on the non-moving, “steady” object while the inner ear senses motion. The brain becomes confused with all of the different brain signals sent and the person begins to feel dizzy.

The reason that people who often feel motion sickness while in a car don’t feel motion sick while driving is because they can anticipate what’s coming next. For example, they see the cars brake ahead of them, they know when a turn is coming up, they see the stoplight turn red, etc. Drivers have a more accurate internal estimate than passengers which makes them less reliant on their external senses. The anticipation that the driver feels replaces the sensory experience in the brain which prevents motion sickness.

How does motion sickness affect the brain?

Motion sickness is due to the body tried to get rid of neurotoxins. Essentially, the brain thinks it’s being poisoned so it tries to get rid of the toxins. This is thought to occur because humans weren’t made to be in moving vehicles. We have only recently started traveling on boats, cars, and trains. Our brains just haven’t adapted yet. Our bodies have been tied to walking for as long as we have had the motor ability to walk.

Our bodies use the motor cortex (the part of the brain that controls our conscious muscle movement) and the proprioception (the physical sense of ourselves) which help us know, for example, where our arm is behind our back without looking at it. We can sense it. Each of these parts of the brain supply signals to the rest of the brain about our movement.

Even though we may be traveling in a car at 50 miles an hour, our bodies perceive that we are stationary because technically, we are just sitting there not moving. At the same time, our brains know that we are going forward at a certain speed because of the balance sensors, little tubes of fluid, that are in the inner ear. When the liquid in these tubes splashes and sloshes around your brain gets mixed messages because the sloshing liquid indicates movement, but in reality, you’re just sitting still. The thalamus takes this information and tries to understand what is really going on. However, it usually comes to the conclusion that it’s being poisoned and often that leads to the feeling of nausea and actual vomiting. That’s simply the brain trying to rid itself and the body of the “apparent toxins”. Our motion sickness comes from our brain’s worry about being poisoned.

Motion sickness

Treatments for motion sickness

There are many options for treatment and remedies for motion sickness :

  • Medication can be used, such as meclizine (Bonine) or Dramamine (dimenhydrinate), that is over the counter and is meant to reduce inner-ear sensitivity. However, these medications can only be preventative and have the tendency to cause drowsiness and dry mouth.  
  • Patches are also used. These patches are called scopolamine patches and are available by prescription. However, they can be addictive because people go overboard with them and are designed for only three-day use at a time. This study proves that it’s more effective than the placebo effect.
  • Bands, such as Psy bands, are bracelets designed to target a pressure point in the wrist that is believed to help tell the body’s senses to straighten out.  
  • Training. The U.S. Department of Defense and NASA have their employees go through intense training to prevent their fighter pilots and astronauts from getting motion sickness. While that training isn’t for the average person or the faint of heart, it is an option is the motion sickness gets in the way too often.

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  • Try cutting out migraine triggers from your diet. People who suffer from migraines often are actually more susceptible to motion sickness. If you grew out of motion sickness and now it’s back, or you have terrible migraines, try taking a look at what triggers the migraines to know how to deal with the motion sickness.
  • Ginger in pill form, chews, tea, or even ginger ale is effective in terms of anti-nausea. One study found that ginger works even better than the placebo effect.
  • Papaya isn’t the most scientific treatment, nor are there any studies on the subject, but it’s theorized that papaya is effective in taking away motion sickness. It’s thought that the enzymes from the papaya relieve morning sickness and nausea. If all else fails, might as well try it!
  • Other medications include valium (diazepam) in low doses, Phenergan (promethazine) and Zofran (ondansetron) for anti-nausea.

Why do only some people get motion sick?

Motion sickness affects everyone at different levels, and we are all capable of it,  but some people are prone to it. Why? No one knows for sure why some people are more prone to motion sickness than others, but it’s thought that some people are more sensitive and reactive to the dissonance happening between reality and the body than others. Some scientists believe that motion sickness is acquired or can be eliminated with enough practice. Others believe that it’s genetic and that it runs in the family. In fact, children born to a parent who is prone to motion sickness are five times more likely to inherit that trait, as well.

Think for example about the fact that native Chinese people have the tendency to get train sick while Chinese-Americans don’t have that tendency. This is because there is less opportunity in China for the body to become accustomed to the sensations that cause motion sickness. Also, think about the fact that ice skaters are actually less likely to feel car sick. Why? Because the ice skaters are used to, like that group of Chinese-Americans, the dissonance that happens between what the body is experiencing and what the body is used to.

Motion sickness

It’s easy to feel motion sick on the metro/subway because you aren’t sure where the next turn is, when the train stops, etc. Your body can’t predict it, and your sensory and visual systems don’t line up.

According to this study published by Oxford Academic, roughly ⅓ of the overall population are highly susceptible to motion sickness. The other ⅔ can get it under extreme conditions. Women are more likely to be affected by motion sickness than men. It’s also probable that it will decrease with age. A 2013 study found that people who sway more, even when they are just sitting, are actually more likely to get body sick than those who remain rather stationary. The bad news is that this study found that if you have a healthy sensory system, you’re susceptible to motion sickness.

Tips to prevent or lessen motion sickness

  • Look out the window. Looking out the window while in a moving vehicle actually helps the brain understand that you are actually moving and that everything is okay.
  • Don’t put your head between your legs– that’s only used for low blood pressure, not dizziness.
  • Sit shotgun if you can’t be the driver. Shotgun, a.k.a. the passengers’ seat, is good because you’ll be able to not only look out the window, but be able to anticipate the twists and turns, and the starts and stops of the road.
  • Don’t reach for water. It can make you feel even more nauseous.
  • Reach for a carbonated drink. Reason being that when the stomach is upset due to nausea, the carbonation from the drink can dilute the acids and relieve the gas buildup that causes the uneasy stomach feeling.
  • Eat a light meal that is high in protein before the trip to ensure that the stomach is as calm as can be during the ride.
  • Stop the car or whatever is making you motion sick and rest a bit.
  • Find something still if stopping isn’t an option.

How do you deal with motion sickness? Let us know in the comments below!

Fear: Everything you need to know about being scared

In the famous words of Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”,  but what exactly is fear, what does it look like, and how does it work? What are the different kinds? Can you actually be scared to death? What happens to our bodies and brains when we feel scared and how can it be managed? What are some tips to deal with being scared?

Fear

What is fear?

Fear is the response to something dangerous- whether emotionally or physically. Defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

“an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful, or bad that is happening or might happen.”

It’s essential for us to feel it because if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t be protected against potential threats. It is adaptative. Fear stems from our fight-or-flight mode which comes from our sympathetic nervous system. Fear should be distinguished from anxiety– the response that occurs when a threat seems unavoidable or uncontrollable.

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What does fear mean?

Traits and behaviors of fear

Fear can make us do just about anything… buy that hotel room online because “6 other people are looking at this room right now”, buy that home security system that has everything included, or inspecting a dark attic while holding a baseball bat because your wife heard a noise. Humans are wired to feel fear and behave accordingly.

The tell-tale signs of fear are what put our body into its flight-or-flight mode. The signs include hyperventilation (a higher heart rate), the constriction of peripheral blood vessels, dilation of the central blood vessels (this causes blushing), piloerection (making a cold person warmer, making a scared animal look more impressive), muscle tension increases (this causes goosebumps), sweating, hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar levels), dyspepsia (the feeling of butterflies in the stomach), and increased serum calcium. When all of these functions happen, our brain realizes that there is danger, and the result is fear.

Can you die from fear?

Yep, it’s possible to be scared to death! When people feel quite scared, their fight-or-flight mode turns on giving them a large rush of adrenaline. This increased level of adrenaline can be damaging to the heart and triggers calcium channels in the heart to open up. When calcium goes into the heart cells, the heart muscles contract forcefully.

Essentially, the calcium doesn’t stop because the adrenaline doesn’t stop, and the heart muscles can’t relax. This can lead to the development of a heart arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation– when the heartbeat isn’t regular. This arrhythmia leads to a drop in blood pressure which, if strong enough, cause the brain to cease blood flow and consciousness is lost.

Causes of fear

Fear can be learned, cultural, natural, and evolutionary. If a kid has a bad experience with clowns, he might have a phobia of them later on in life. Culturally, different cultures it different phenomena. Fear is embedded into our nature- we can’t survive without it. Scientists believe that the phobia of heights is something embedded in us and that came out during the Mesozoic period of time. Since then, most of us evolved to have a slight phobia of tall heights.

Fear is characterized by rational or appropriate and inappropriate or irrational. An irrational fear is also called a phobia. It’s a twist of the normal response to fear. “Phobia” is the Greek stem for “fear of”. Some of the most common phobias are public speaking, heights, needles, spiders, snakes, ghosts, tight/enclosed spaces, and rejection.

People who suffer from a fear of fear, also known as anxiety sensitivity, are likely to have a personality or identity issue to begin with which is what helps the fear phobia develop. Many people also develop an affect phobia– a phobia of negative feelings. It’s not uncommon for those with anxiety disorders to develop a fear of phobia. This is because they perceive a fear response as negative and will do everything in their power to avoid that response. Phonophobia is the technical term for the fear of phobias.

Fear

Psychological theories of fear

Some psychologists have suggested that there are only a small set of innate and basic emotions that the rest of our emotions stem from. Of those include anger, angst, acute stress reaction, anxiety, horror, fright, panic, happiness, sadness, and fear. They believe that fear comes from a behavioral response and has been preserved through evolution.

Others suggest that the feeling of being scared isn’t only dependent on the nature of a person, but by their social and cultural interactions which help guide them to know what is scary. For example, being scared of the monster under the bed or having a parent look in the closet for the Boogeyman.

The psychoanalytic theory of fear comes from Sigmund Freud. He believes that the scary object/idea is not the original subject of fear. For instance, while I may be scared of clowns, it’s because when I was smaller, I was bitten by a dog while watching a clown.

The learning theory combines cognitive theory and behaviorism. This theory means that a phobia develops when the fear response is punished or reinforced- in either a positive or negative way.

There is also the option of a biological basis with the focus mainly on neuropsychology- mental disorders are caused by physiological factors. Neuropsychologists have found that there are some genetic factors that could play a role in phobia development. They’ve also found that certain medications that affect brain chemistry are useful in helping to treat phobias- mainly medication that raises serotonin levels.

How does fear affect the brain?

Fear neurocircuits in mammals

When fright is felt (via any of the five the senses), three main areas of the brain are affected. First, the thalamus collects the data from the senses. Second, the sensory cortex takes the data from the thalamus and begins to process and interpret it. After, the sensory cortex takes the processed information and spreads it throughout the two amygdalae (fear), hypothalamus (fight-or-flight), and the hippocampus (memory). However, it has also been found that when people are presented with a scary face, the occipital cerebellar regions of the brain are activated. Those include the fusiform gyrus, inferior parietal, and the superior temporal gyri. People who have damage to their amygdala might be unable to experience feeling scared.

The response to fear is automatic and we won’t know it’s going on until it’s over and has run its course. The main part of the brain where the feeling of scared is really felt is in the amygdala. It’s essential for our adaptation to emotional learning memory and stress. Our brain has two amygdalae and each one forms a part of our circuitry of fear learning. When we feel a threat, our fight-or-flight response begins. Essentially, this means that the amygdalae produce a secretion of hormones that influence both feeling scared and aggression.

Once the feeling of fear or aggression has started, the amygdala release hormones into the body in order to keep the human alert so they may be ready to run, fight, and move at any moment. Some of these hormones include norepinephrine (increases heart rate, blood flow, and glucose release for energy), epinephrine (regulates heart rate and metabolism, dilates air passages and blood vessels), and cortisol (increases blood sugar and the feeling of stress). Once the threat and reason for terror has subsided, the amygdala sends this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in order to have it stored for the future. This is known as memory consolidation and happens through a process known as synaptic plasticity.

This synaptic plasticity occurs because the amygdalae and the hippocampus work together to create memories surrounding the situation. Stimulation of the hippocampus causes the person to remember specific details about the scary situation. Neuron stimulation in the amygdalae generates memory formation and plasticity. When this process occurs frequently, known as fear conditioning, it can lead to having a phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some MRI scans have shown that the amygdalae in people who have been diagnosed with panic disorders or bipolar disorder are larger overall and more wired to have a higher level of fright.

Fear pheromones

As mammals, like other birds, reptiles, insects, and aquatic organisms, we release an odor called pheromones. Also known as alarm substances, fear pheromones are signals that are chemical and meant to defend oneself from danger. For example, think of a skunk or a stink bug. When they feel scared, they release an odor- their pheromone- to try and make the danger go away via the foul smell. In many animals, the release of the pheromones is meant to let other members of the species around them know that there is danger. This pheromone-alarm can lead to a change such as defensive behavior, dispersion, or freezing depending on the species and situation. For example, it’s been found that rats can release pheromones that cause the rats around them to move away from the rat releasing pheromones.

Humans work slightly differently than animals in that respect. When we feel scared, other humans naturally react differently than how the rats acted in the scenario above. Unlike in animals, humans’ alarm-pheromones haven’t been chemically isolated yet- but we know they exist. Androstadienone is a steroid in the form of an odor that comes from deep within the human body and is found in human sweat, hair, and plasma. Androstenone is another related steroid that is used to communicate dominance, competition, or aggression. One study found that terror responses may be gender specific.

Fear

Is fear contagious?

Can it be contagious, though? An interesting study found that it’s possible to smell the difference between human exercise-induced sweat and human feeling scared/nervous/anxiety-induced sweat. This means that we can literally smell terror and that, yes, it can be contagious. When someone is scared, the other people around them can feel it. If those other people are sensitive enough, they might begin to feel it as well. This is a simple survival instinct. When one member of the gazelle herd feels scared because of a lion running towards them, the other members should, too. Unlike animals who use smell to communicate, humans usually communicate by language, both verbal and body. However, humans are able to communicate some emotions via smell and fear is one of them.

Fear isn’t just contagious via smell, but also via genetics. One study showed that a generation of lab rats who were trained to associate cherry blossoms with electric shock had children and grandchildren who were all nervous about the cherry blossom even though the younger generations had never experienced any shock association with cherry blossoms. In their brains, the areas known for smell were bigger- likely to be able to smell the cherry blossom and avoid what their ancestors were wary of. Known as epigenetics, the genetic code gets modified and turns off/activates certain genes.

Fear within society

According to a Gallup Poll done in 2015, within the U.S., the top 10 fears people have (not in any order) are:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • War
  • Gang violence
  • Criminal violence
  • Failure
  • Death
  • Spiders
  • Being alone
  • Nuclear war
  • The future

In 2008, one author analyzed the top words on the internet that followed the phrase “fear of…” and found that the top ten were:

  • Snakes
  • Failure
  • Clowns
  • Flying
  • Death
  • Heights
  • Intimacy
  • Driving
  • People
  • Rejection

Management and treatment

Pharmaceutically, fear conditioning (PTSD, phobias) has been proven to be manageable using glucocorticoids. This is because the glucocorticoids prevent the fear-conditioned behavior. Psychologically, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is successful to help people overcome what they’re scared of.

CBT is useful through exposure therapy because people are able to confront what they are scared of in a safe way that helps them learn how to suppress the fear-triggering stimulus or memory. One study has shown that up to 90% of people who try exposure therapy for phobias are able to decrease the phobias overtime. Another study showed that our brains can overwrite bad, scary memories with stimulation of the amygdala.

True facts about fear

  • Fear is contagious and we can smell it! A group of women who smelled the shirts of men- half with anxiety induced sweat and half with exercise-induced sweat- could smell the difference between the two types of sweat.
  • We remember being scared. When we are scared, our brains save the situation in our memory so we can remember not to repeat the situation.
  • Our brains can overwrite fear!
  • It’s possible to be scared to death. When our bodies produce to much adrenaline, our hearts become overworked and we can collapse unconscious.
  • Fear is genetic! Epigenetics is real and our genetic makeup can warn us to be scared and wary of something.
  • The fear gene, known as stathmin, is stored in the amygdala and is what groups us into people who can jump off cliffs and those who can’t get near one.
Fear

Tips to overcome fear

  • Be aware that you’re feeling scared. You can’t fix what you don’t know. You aren’t what you’re scared of- you’re the awareness that is experiencing it.
  • Identify what’s making you scared.
  • Find the root of it.
  • Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy and exposure therapy are both forms of therapy that are helpful in overcoming phobias.
  • Hypnosis is a common method to help people overcome some phobias.
  • Yoga can help release any bad energy and anxiety in the body. By releasing some negative energy, the scared feelings can become less powerful.
  • Read books or watch movies on your phobia. Sometimes you’ll find helpful hints or interesting facts about your phobia that will help alleviate it.
  • Be grateful. Rather than being scared about having to speak publicly, think about what a great opportunity it is to be able to share what you’re going to say. Switch the situation around.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

CogniFit Cognitive Brain Training adapts to your specific cognitive needs. Train your cognitive skills with this popular tool.

Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Not Sure If You Should Take The Leap? Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

We may not look back on our foreign language classes at school with much fondness.However, after reading about the following benefits of learning foreign languages, we may all be searching for our Spanish or French class notes.

Learning a foreign language can be difficult. The older you are, the more challenging it can be. Nevertheless, learning a new language can have a range of cognitive, health and cultural benefits.

Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Beneficial for traveling, learning and communicating

Learning a foreign language means you can explore a whole new culture, country, or continent through the native tongue. Learning a foreign language also allows us to communicate with individuals who do not speak our mother tongue.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Stay young and stave off disease

Research has found that bilingualism can help counteract cognitive decline. In fact, it was noted that bilingual older adults had better memory than monolingual older adults. Furthermore, there has been links between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s, showing the correlation to speaking more than one language and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Evy Woumans and colleagues have found that in older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the rate of progression is slower in bilingual patients compared to monolingual patients.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Be more creative

A review into the cognitive correlates of bilingualism, by Olusola Adesope and colleagues found that bilingualism has been associated with enhanced creativity and abstract thinking. Essentially, being proficient in a foreign language can make you more creative and can help you think outside the box.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improved problem-solving skills

Bilinguals tend to have better problem-solving skills than monolinguals. In addition, bilinguals tend to perform better on tasks like the Stroop test, which requires an element of conflict management. Being fluent in a foreign language has been linked to enhanced inhibitory control ability. This means that bilinguals are better at ignoring information that interferes with their ability to complete a task. The message here seems to be that learning a foreign language can help us to solve problems faster and help us to ignore irrelevant information.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Better cognitive control

Researchers Viorica Marion and Anthony Shook tested bilinguals in experiments of task switching. Participants were required to switch between sorting objects based on colour and by shape. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals displayed high levels of cognitive control. They find it easier to switch between tasks compared to monolinguals. Essentially, learning a foreign language may improve our task switching ability. Researchers propose enhanced cognitive control is due to the ability to balance two languages. Bilingual language processing networks for both languages are active at the same time. As both languages are activated, the individual responds in the correct language by learning to inhibit one language over the other. By doing this, bilinguals improve their inhibitory control mechanism, to the point where when processing language, the process of inhibiting the language that isn’t needed at a particular time becomes second nature. Wondering how you can train your brain and cognitive skills? Try some fun brain games!

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Changes brain structure

Bilingualism has been found to increase neuroplasticity. Researcher Rosanna Olsen and colleagues investigated structural brain differences in monolinguals and bilinguals using fMRI. Scans revealed that bilinguals display increased activation in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC plays an important role in tasks which require control). This part of the brain is associated with attention and inhibition. The researchers found that the hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus are more malleable in bilinguals (The hippocampus is associated with memory and the superior temporal gyrus is associated with sound processing). Furthermore, these structures as well as the frontal lobe are thicker in bilingual individuals (The frontal lobes are associated with executive functions such as problem solving and executive control-need some exercises to improve executive functions?). Increased volumes of white matter have been noted in frontal and temporal lobes. According to researcher Christos Pilatsikas and colleagues, when learning a second language age doesn’t matter, as adults who have learnt a foreign language have shown increase white matter. Being proficient in a foreign language can improve connections of brain regions that control our memory, executive functioning, attention and inhibition processes.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improves attention and attention control

Studies have shown that on tasks of attention control, bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals. Also bilinguals tend to have a higher attention capacity. Bilinguals are better at filtering out unwanted information and find it easier to focus on more relevant information.

Improves ability to process information– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Being bilingual can benefit sensory and information processing. Jennifer Krizman and colleagues present participants with target sounds embedded in background noise. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals found it easier to filter out background noise. The researchers found bilingualism enhances sound processing and sustained attention. The study found that bilinguals process sound similarly to musicians. This means that one of the benefits of learning a foreign language is being able to improve the efficiency of the brain’s auditory system, and enhance our ability to distinguish between similar sounds.

Benefits of learning foreign languages

Enhances working memory– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Managing two languages puts increased pressure our working memory. To ease the pressure, bilinguals become more efficient at information processing. Combining this with their enhanced inhibitory control ability, a bilingual’s working memory capacity and efficiency us greater than monolinguals.

Learning multiple foreign languages

We have already established that being fluent in a foreign language can improve our information processing abilities and enhance our sustained attention. As a result of these enhanced processes, bilinguals find it easier to learn a third or even fourth foreign language.

Learning a foreign language can have numerous benefits on our cognitive functions. It improves executive functions, cognitive control, attention, and memory. In addition, neuroimaging studies have revealed that learning a foreign language in later life can actually grow the brain and improve the connections between different brain regions. What is even more interesting is that learning a foreign language can counteract cognitive decline and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the age at which we learn a foreign language, it is still beneficial for our brains to do so. So, although it may be a little more difficult, it is clearly never too late to reap the benefits of learning foreign languages! Encouraging young children to learn a foreign language may benefit them in later life, so schools should look at making learning a foreign language a compulsory part of the curriculum. Aside from the benefits to cognition and the brain, for all of us who have the travelling bug and want to explore new cultures, learning the lingo is obviously the best place to start!

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a note below! 🙂

References

Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research80(2), 207-245.

Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(20), 7877-7881.

Mårtensson, J., Eriksson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindgren, M., Johansson, M., Nyberg, L., & Lövdén, M. (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning. NeuroImage63(1), 240-244.

Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, September). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2012). Dana Foundation.

Pliatsikas, C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, J. D. (2015). The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(5), 1334-1337.

Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., & Duyck, W. (2015). Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer's disease.Bilingualism: Language and Cognition18(03), 568-574.

Costa, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience15(5), 336-345.

Olsen, R. K., Pangelinan, M. M., Bogulski, C., Chakravarty, M. M., Luk, G., Grady, C. L., & Bialystok, E. (2015). The effect of lifelong bilingualism on regional grey and white matter volume. Brain research1612, 128-139.

Saidi, L. G., & Ansaldo, A. I. (2015). Can a Second Language Help You in More Ways Than One?. AIMS neurosci1, 52-57.

Sex differences in the brain: Is there a male and a female brain?

For many years, science has tried to explain how women and men are different beyond sexual traits. On this matter, research continues on how sex differences in the brain extend to more internal biology, including our brain (how well do you know your brain?). Some studies support the relationship between human brain structure and behavior, personality, cognition, attitudes and gender characteristics. Maybe because of this, there are theories categorizing it into two forms: male-brain and female-brain. Nevertheless, more recent studies cannot confirm the existence of this sexual dimorphic view of human brains.

Sex differences in the brain

Anatomical Sex Differences in the Brain

As mentioned before, everything we are, from behavior, cognition and attitudes to gender expression, have a base on the brain. But it’s important to note that factors influencing brain development in both males and females include, not only biology, but also the environment. By this, we must then consider that culture, and social constructions have an important role in how we build relationships with the world. Let’s see what we know about the biology of sex differences.

Structure and Function

Research related to gender differences in the brain shows us some general differences on brain structure and function in men and women:

  • Sex differences in the brain begin as early as the fetal development. The hormone testosterone plays a role on the “masculinization” of the brain. Although this hormone is present in both men and women, males have it in a bigger proportion.
  • Males, on average, have larger total brain volume than women. Nevertheless, the volume and tissue density differs depending on the region:
    • Men have higher volume in bilateral limbic areas and left posterior cingulate gyrus. Whereas women have larger volume in the right hemisphere of the brain related to language and the limbic structures. (More on the functions of your limbic system)
    • In relation to tissue density, men have higher proportion in the left side of the limbic system, while women’s tissue density is higher in the frontal lobe.
  • Both sexes share the circuitry needed to generate male or female typical behaviors. Nevertheless, it depends on the activation or repression of these circuits, as well as the strategies our brain uses to generate them.
  • Scientists have also studied sex differences in the structure of the brain related to psychopathological conditions. In general, ADHD, autism, conduct disorders, specific language impairment, Tourette’s syndrome and dyslexia prevale on males. Women, on the other hand, prevale on suffering from depression, anxiety and anorexia nervosa.

The Environment

Without doubt, different characteristics need to be analyzed in both genders. Some brain regions are smaller or with higher tissue density in men or women, while others are bigger or have lower density. Of course this may explain why women and men have different skills and may have typical behavior according to gender.

However, it’s very important to understand that this doesn’t make it a rule. These traits are not to be present in every man or woman. Moreover, male’s or female’s typical behavior might also be constructed by society and the environment.

Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain’s connections can change throughout our lives. This means that, the more we stimulate different areas of the brain, the more connections we’ll generate. If both sexes have the same structures and functions in the brain, it will depend on how often a person puts them in practice. For this reason, the brain’s “use it or lose it” approach is important for cognitive maintenance.

But how to activate your brain? There are many brain gym activities that can help. As you may know, there are many benefits of exercise on the brain, as well as benefits of learning foreign languages. But more importantly: get enrolled in new and challenging activities for you. The brain gets more active when doing tasks you’re not used to. It “forces” the brain to learn new pathways and create more connections between different regions. When performing a certain task, your brain learns the pathway, making it easier to achieve it over time. Brain games can also be a great way to improve neural connections, and luckily there are some programs dedicated to improving brain connections and brain areas ;).

The Brain Mosaic: A new Theory

Considering all this information, professor at Tel-Aviv University, Daphna Joel (2015), has different findings on sex differences on the brain. Her study, along with other scientists, consisted on analyzing the MRIs of 1.400 people’s brains. They observed the differences on the distribution of the gray matter, white matter and connectivity. And what did they find?

  1. Brains cannot be categorized as male or female. They are “comprised of unique ‘mosaics’ of features. Some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females. Some more common in both females and males” (Daphna et al., 2015).
  2. Brains with features belonging to the “maleness-femaleness” continuum are not common. They found low or limited amount of brains considered or categorized as “full male/full female”. The great majority have both “male-female” features.
  3. Variability prevales on these features, rather than consistency. “The forms that are evident in most females, are also the ones evident in most males”. The general characteristics of each sexes’ brain vary greatly, making a classification uncertain as they both share these features.
  4. Quantifying instead of qualifying. “It’s more appropriate and informative to refer to measures of the brain in quantitative ways, rather than in qualitative ways (e.g. “male” or “female” form)”. Describing the size, the density, the amount of connections, etc. of each brain makes it more accurate. At the end, we all have different traits beyond our sex/gender.
  5. These findings open debates about sex/gender differentiation at a social level. Are there tasks that are only appropriate for men or for women? Should education be single-sex?

Watch the following video to find out more about her study, or read her full article here.

Does it really matter?

We might as well ask ourselves whether or not categorizing the human brain is useful. All in all, categories help us understand the world we live in as well as understand ourselves. In medicine, for instance, it’s useful to categorize diseases and disorders in order to treat them. But after all, not everything can be classified and limited: human beings are far more complicated than that. Being so different from one another and expressing our uniqueness is part of idiosyncrasy. Finally, accepting gender as a social construction and not considering behavior as “male-or-female-typical”, can make us more tolerant and open to idiosyncrasy.

Money doesn’t buy happiness; or does it?

We’ve all dreamt about winning the lottery. We day dream about what we would buy with our winnings. While spending our winnings, basking in the glorious sunshine, on the beach of our own private island, we hear our parents and grandparents, telling us off with the age old saying; money doesn’t buy happiness! Snapping us right back to reality, questioning the validity of money can’t buy happiness, when in our fantasy world, we clearly seemed overjoyed to have won millions. Can this argument be settled for once and for all? Does money buy happiness or doesn’t it? Is the answer as clear cut as we think?

Money doesn’t buy happiness

Money makes you happy! And stingier!

We already know that people in a comfortable standard of living (i.e. not having to worry too much about money, clothes, food etc.) are generally happier than those that are living in poverty. They may be happier, but research shows that they are also stingier. Professor Yaojun Li at the University of Manchester investigated differences in donations to charity between high income and low income earners in the United Kingdom. The findings revealed that the poorest 20% of the population donated 3.2% of their gross monthly income to charity compared to the richest 20% who only donate 0.9%. Those with a lower income were more generous compared to those with a higher income.

So, is it true that money doesn’t buy happiness? These findings don’t give a definitive answer, but we can clearly deduce that having more money doesn’t make you kinder, which some would argue is an essential part of being happy. This doesn’t mean that if you’re one of the people that has a comfortable living, to go and give half your salary to charity. Do what you can, try to set aside some money to donate to a shelter or food bank. Give it a try and tell us if it makes you feel better!

Money doesn’t buy happiness

We’ve all heard the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness”, but what does that actually mean? People often think that if they have all the money to buy the things they want, take their dream vacation, and live in their dream home, that they’ll finally be happy. However, money comes from working, and working enough to earn a high income is often associated with long work hours, and with little time to spend with loved ones and do social activities. This lack of time has can have a negative impact on social relationships, and with less time to spend the extra money, can actually make you more miserable. Researchers from the University of Rome investigated happiness in lottery winners. They found that considering their new found wealth, lottery winners were not much happier than than those that hadn’t won. As increased wealth is associated with increased pressure and responsibility, it could explain why the lottery winners don’t feel the instant happiness that everyone thinks they will feel if the “finally have the money to buy x“.

Sharing the wealth makes you happy

Researchers Dunn, Akin and Norton from the University of British Columbia conducted an experiment whereby participants received an envelope with money. One group were told to buy something nice for themselves. The other group were instructed to by something for someone else. The researchers found that the second group, who shared their money with someone else, reported increased feelings of happiness compared to the group who kept the money for themselves. These findings show that more money doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness. Happiness comes from being able to share this wealth with others, but money doesn’t buy happiness. Dunn, Akin and Norton conducted a similar experiment with young infants, swapping the money for crackers. They found that the infants displayed increased levels of happiness when they shared their crackers with another person. Based on these findings, it seems that from a young age, we are happier when we are able to share with others.

The money threshold to happiness

According to Di Tella and MacCulloh “Greater economic prosperity at some point ceases to buy more happiness.” There is a threshold, of how much money can actually bring you happiness, once you surpass this threshold, it no longer affects your happiness. Princeton University researchers Kahenman and Deaton identified the threshold, for money buying happiness to be $75,000. Once income surpassed found $75,000 per year, levels of reported happiness plateaued. Earning up the $75,000 mark is more money, more happiness, more than this, and it’s more money, more problems!

Age and gender play a part

Research has identified that the idea that money can buy happiness is influenced by a range of factors. They have identified that as we get older, we are less likely to hold the belief that money can buy happiness. Furthermore, there are gender differences, compared to men, women are less likely to believe that money holds the key to happiness.

Get more bang for your buck! (or more happiness)

Researchers Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson have found the relationship between money and happiness isn’t as strong as we may think. These researchers propose 8 principles, which they believe that regardless of income, can get more happiness for your money.

  1. Spend your money on experiences and not material goods. Researchers conducting a survey found 57% of respondents reported greater happiness for experience based purchases.

Money doesn’t buy happiness: Buying experiences increases happiness

  1. Help others instead of yourself. The reasoning behind this is that we are social beings, so anything that can improve our social connections, ultimately invokes more positive feelings.
  1. Buy yourself more smaller treats instead of a few big treats. Here the old saying “it’s the little things” comes to mind.
  1. Do you really need the extended warranty? Buy less insurance. We have all buy expensive items and get drawn in by insurance offers, we think protects us against the inevitable, which often doesn’t happen. These policies are usually just as expensive!
  1. Do the opposite of buy now, pay later; pay now, use later. We are less like to be tempted by immediate reward and go for something of long term benefit. For example, you may choose a banana to eat for later than a chocolate bar to eat right away.
  1. Think about the details you’ve missed out. When imagining your dream house, or dream car, you only focus on the details which please you. Focusing on both the pro’s and con’s will help see the bigger picture, helping you to spend money for long term happiness.
  1. Be cautious when comparison shopping. Using comparison websites, may cause you to lose focus on the details and features that you need or make you happy. Instead you focus on features that help you to distinguish between items, such as price. You may go with the cheaper option, bag yourself a bargain, only later to realise it isn’t exactly what you were looking for.

Money doesn’t buy happiness: Be cautious when shopping

  1. Follow the crowd. When looking to buy a wish list item, look at someone who has already purchased it. Do they seem as happy as you think you would be buying that bag or shoes? It’s like going to cinema and watching a movie based on a recommendation. If you think about it this way, you’ll figure out what’s really important and what you just want on a whim.

Money doesn’t happiness, right? It’s not a straightforward as it seems. Although it does split every one into two camps, yes and no, it is not that clear cut. Yes, money can make you happier, but it can make you stingier. On the other hand, increased income is associated with long working hours and less leisure time, having the opposite effect and potentially making you more miserable. More money only buys happiness when you share the wealth, and so much money can bring you happiness. A $75,000 salary to be precise. Any more than this, and happiness plateaus. Age and gender plays a part in how much we believe money is the key to happiness. Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson, outline 8 steps which can help you get more happiness for your money, without actually having to make more money. Also winning the lottery may not be the answer to all our problems, it may actually bring more problems of its own. Still there’s nothing wrong with having a plan on how to spend your winnings, just in case!

Where do you sit on this debate? Do you think money can buy happiness or do you think it is quite the opposite? Leave a comment below! 🙂

References

Becchetti, L., Trovato, G., & Londono Bedoya, D. A. (2011). Income, relational goods and happiness. Applied Economics43(3), 273-290.

Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687−1688.

Dunn, E., & Norton, M. (2012). Don’t indulge. Be happy. New York Times.

Dunn, E. W., Gilbert, D. T., & Wilson, T. D. (2011). If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right. Journal of Consumer Psychology21(2), 115-125.

Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences107(38), 16489-16493.

Li, Y. (2013, April 3). Poor more generous than rich in recession, study shows. Retrieved from http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/poor-more-generous-than-rich-in-recession-study-shows

Tella, R. D., & MacCulloch, R. (2008). Happiness Adaptation to Income beyond” Basic Needs” (No. w14539). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Brain seizures: When The Brain Has Too Much Energy

Brain seizures: Some of us have to deal with them every single day, whilst others can be witnesses of someone having a  brain seizure. Most commonly, people having to experience someone suffering from a brain seizure are overwhelmed when their loved ones jerk uncontrollably and subsequently lose consciousness. Not only are the witnesses clueless about which steps to take, but also the patients if his/her seizure occurs for the first time. This article will give you a guide on what brain seizures are, their symptoms, treatments and what steps to take in order to increase the quality of life of the patient. 

What are brain seizures?

What are brain seizures?

Brain seizures are changes in the brain’s electrical activity. This change can cause dramatic, noticeable symptoms or it may not cause any symptoms. Patients that experience brain seizures possess abnormal neural activity which is uncontrolled and happens spontaneously.

The brain function, however, is often not abnormal. The involuntary change in neural activity is considered epilepsy, in which the brain seizures are the symptoms. Though, brain seizures can also be induced in a normal brain under a variety of conditions different species, from humans to flies. Brain function is not abnormal but cognitive aspects might be threatened by many brain seizures.

Brain Seizures Types

Generally, we differentiate between three different types of seizures. Usually, they are dependent on the number of brain cells showing abnormal activity. This is crucial in order to select a suitable treatment for the patient, as different medications have to be used for each seizure type.

  1. Generalized onset brain seizures: In this case, there is no identifiable onset meaning a starting point in the brain cannot be determined. The seizure starts and spreads too quickly making a reliable decision about the trigger impossible. For this reason, treatment using surgery to suppress the symptoms is not available.
  2. Focal onset brain seizures: Whereas in generalized onset seizures the location is not known, in this type of brain seizure, doctors are able to determine the starting point of the seizures. Focal brain seizures can start in one area of the brain or in a specific group of cells either in the left or right hemisphere. Furthermore, patients can have full or impaired awareness during their fit.
  3. Unknown onset brain seizures: If the nature of the seizure cannot be determined, they belong to this group. This is mostly at the beginning or if the patient lives alone without witnesses observing the person with the seizure. As more information is obtained, the seizure is later classified as generalized onset brain seizure or focal onset brain seizure.

How is a brain seizure caused?

Aspects of the brain affected by different brain seizure

The emergence of a brain seizure can be down to several reasons, but determining the exact cause has proven to be challenging. At least half of all patients display idiopathic seizures meaning the cause is unknown. Nevertheless, depending on the age of the patient, determining the trigger of a brain seizure can be narrowed down.

Generally, genetics plays a large role whether someone will experience a seizure in their lives or not. Pinpointing the specific genes which are responsible for the symptoms though is a struggle. This diagnosis is mostly very vague as the relationship between the genes in the brain and the nature of seizures is poorly understood.

What is known on the other hand is a prevalence of about 3 out of 10 patients having a change in brain structure which leads to some sort of brain seizure. Mostly this is the case for children born with alterations in brain regions.  For the elderly, incidence such as a stroke is usually the cause of developing recurrent seizures.

When suffering from epilepsy, an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry is frequently observed. This refers to the neurotransmitters being present in the wrong concentrations (too little or too much in the brain). In general, everybody has got two kinds of neurotransmitters with opposing functions: Neurotransmitter of excitatory and inhibitory qualities, with the former increasing the firing rate and the latter reducing the activity of the neurons. The balance of both kinds has to be maintained and if not given, can result in hyperactivity of the neurons causing epilepsy.

The best-studied neurotransmitter is GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which possesses inhibitory qualities counterbalancing neuronal excitation. GABA’s counterpart glutamate, the principal excitatory neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in the initiation and spread of brain seizures. This was demonstrated by During and Spencer in 1993 when they tested the concentration of these two neurotransmitters in the hippocampus before and during a seizure. Before seizures, the glutamate concentration in this brain area was found to be higher than in the control group, whereas the concentration of GABA was observed to be lower. During the seizure, GABA concentrations increased in both groups, however in the control group a greater increase was found. Consequently, drugs to treat epilepsy revolve around these two neurotransmitters, by either reducing the concentration of glutamate or by increasing GABA content in the synapses in order to reduce hyperactivity of the neurons.

Brain Seizures Symptoms

Clinicians group the symptoms into two categories, generalized and partial or focal seizures, in order to find out if a patient suffers from epilepsy.
The different types are:

Generalized brain seizures (produced by the whole brain)

  • “Grand Mal”: The most known form where the patient loses consciousness and collapses. The body stiffens and violent jerking begins usually lasting for about 30-60 seconds. Afterwards, the patient goes into deep sleep.
  • Absence: Individuals experiencing an absence seizure stare into space for a few seconds. They are most common in children and a brief loss of consciousness is reported.
  • Myoclonic: These seizures are brief, shock-like jerks or twitches of a muscle or a whole muscle group. This usually does not last for a long time (only about 1-2 seconds) and the person experiencing it retains full consciousness.
  • Clonic: This type of seizures is very similar to the myoclonic seizure with the difference of a more regular and sustained jerking.
  • Tonic: The muscle tone, the muscle’s normal tension at rest, is highly increased leading to tense feelings in arms, legs or body in general. Awareness usually does not change much and the symptoms subside within 20 seconds.
  • Atonic: Atonic seizures are substantially the opposite of tonic seizures. Instead of the muscles becoming stiff, a person experiencing an atonic seizure will feel their muscles going limp. For instance, a person standing might fall to the ground when suffering an atonic seizure. As tonic seizures, they do not last for a long time either.

Partial or Focal brain seizures

Focal brain seizures are known to originate from a specific brain region causing a variety of symptoms depending on the brain area affected. Generally, doctors differentiate between seizures causing a (partial) loss of consciousness and the ones where consciousness is preserved.

Symptoms of focal seizures with impaired awareness (once called complex partial seizures) could be the following:

  • Staring into space
  • Response to the environment is abnormal or impaired
  • Execution of repetitive movements (hand rubbing, chewing, walking in circles, etc…)

Symptoms of focal seizures without loss of consciousness (once called simple partial seizures):

  • Change of emotions
  • Difference in perception
  • Involuntary jerking of a body part
  • Sensory symptoms (eg. tingling, dizziness and flashing lights)

Note: If an individual experiences seizures repeatedly (once a week or even once every single day), their symptoms will most likely remain similar.

Brain seizures: Diagnosis and what to expect when visiting a doctor?

If a person suffers from a brain seizure (or thinks they have suffered one), the first stop will be consulting your general practitioner. Make an appointment and if the seizure was witnessed by someone, ask this person to join.

Depending on the type of seizure, most likely you were unconscious which makes it difficult for you to describe what happened. However, the doctor will ask you a series of questions, also called the medical interview, in which he will ask you about your general health and incidences before, during and after the seizure. Especially for the medical interview, it is advisable to have someone near you answer questions which you might not be able to answer.

The doctor will most likely be able to diagnose a brain seizure based on the answers of the patient. However, to obtain a clearer idea of the clinical picture of the patient, more tests will be necessary.

The primary physician will ask a neurologist to take a look at the inside of the individual’s brain. Every single brain is different and finding the most suitable treatment for a patient is far from straightforward. The following tests are used when attempting to diagnose brain seizures in detail:

  • Blood tests: The most common blood test is the CBC (Complete Blood count) in which the doctor determines important parameters in your blood, e.g the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, etc. Therefore a blood test serves to determine the appropriate medication for infections, allergies, and other abnormalities are revealed.
  • Metabolic tests: This test assesses the functioning of your organs, more specifically your body’s ability to metabolize. The evaluation is also done via a blood sample and includes an assessment of the content of important molecules in your blood. The sodium, potassium and blood sugar levels are evaluated. Not only will this help determine an electrolyte imbalance, but also reveal any malfunction of the kidney or the liver. The importance of looking at these organs is to find out whether a disease could trigger the brain seizures, which was found to be the case for instance in patients with diabetes. In this case, doctors focus on treating the symptoms of the illness causing the brain seizures (in this case diabetes) rather prescribing drugs targeting the brain seizures directly.
  • An EEG (electroencephalography) test: The term might sound familiar to most of us, but what is this exactly and how can it help doctors make a more accurate diagnosis? An EEG can reveal the electrical activity of the brain and in which regions abnormal/normal activity is present. The specialists can make conclusions if the brain seizures come from a single area or are more widespread looking at the EEG pattern.
  • CT and MRI scan: Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are two techniques that will look into your brain. The aim here is to find physical abnormalities that cause the seizures. Although for a lot of people suffering from brain seizures the test results will be negative, it is still an important procedure. In cases where brain seizures are very frequent and strong, determining the exact cause is crucial since the possibility to undergo surgery could be an adequate treatment option.

What to do and not to do when faced with a brain seizure?

If we see our loved-ones suffering from a seizure, it would be normal to be frightened and expect the worst. However, most brain seizures are not dangerous and the person regains his/her normal state within a few minutes without permanent damage. Fact is: Once a seizure is going, you cannot simply force the person to stop jerking, however, you can protect the person inflicting damage to his own body.

The DO’S!

  • Make sure other people are not standing too close to the person having a seizure
  • Remove sharp or hard objects from the surroundings
  • Do not stop the movements of your friend
  • Take a look at his/her watch to record the seizure duration
  • To keep the airway clear, put the person on his/her side
  • And most importantly: Keep calm!

The DONT’S!

  • Do not restrain the person as you might injure him or get injured yourself
  • No offering of food or drinks to the sufferer: A sip of water might be a trigger for choking
  • Do not insert anything into his/her mouth! They will not swallow their tongue
  • No CPR (unless the patient is not breathing after the seizure)

Tips to reduce brain seizures

Since the underlying trigger for a brain seizure is often unknown, it is crucial to reduce the odds of a brain seizure to a minimum. Take the following provisions:

  • Reduce stress by getting enough sleep (it is best to adhere to a regular sleeping schedule)
  • Physical activity or yoga may help feeling more relaxed, as well as deep breathing
  • Limit noise sources and make sure the room is well illuminated when watching TV or when playing video games
  • When going for a run you should do it in the park, rather than in high-traffic areas or unpaved trails
  • But most importantly: Stick to your medication your doctor prescribed you unless he/she tells you otherwise!

Have you witnessed a brain seizure or are you suffering from this condition? Please feel free to comment below.

Amygdala: The powerhouse of emotions

Our brain is a palace of structures. It dictates everything we do, how we think, how we behave and how we feel. In this article, we will focus only on the amygdala (sounds like a character out of a Star Wars movie): From what it is, functions, neurophysiological aspects of the amygdala, what happens if it gets damaged, and its relationship with other brain areas.  

Amygdala

What is the amygdala?

The amygdala is a structure in the limbic system that is involved directly with motivation: Particularly related to survival and our emotions. It is also responsible for processing emotions such as fear, pleasure, and anger.

The amygdala is the house where all of our emotions are stored. One of its main functions is to help us to recognize potential threats when we encounter them. When doing this, it revs the body up in preparation for a fight or flight response by increasing our breathing and heart rates. It is also responsible for evaluating the emotional intensity of various situations. This is especially important because since we encounter certain situations repeatedly, from emotional memory, our amygdala wouldn’t need to fire up… unless our brains say otherwise.

The word ‘amygdala’ was derived from the Greek word for “almond” since this part of our brain is shaped like one. Like most other structures in our brain and in other animals, we have two amygdalae. Each amygdala is located on each of the left and right temporal lobe. Since it’s in very close proximity to the hippocampus, the amygdala is involved with the influence of memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process that stabilizes a memory trace right when it has been obtained.

Amygdala: The limbic system

To understand the amygdala a little bit better, this article is going to give a swift review of the limbic system and why it’s important.

The limbic system is not a separate system, but a system composed of several key structures in the brain including the diencephalon, mesencephalon, and telencephalon. The limbic system specifically includes the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus.

You can find the limbic system nuzzled immediately underneath the cerebrum. The limbic system is important because it is responsible for the formation of memories, and our emotional lives are stored in this area of the brain. The components of the limbic system regulate endocrine and autonomic function in response to any sort of emotional stimuli. In short, the three key functions it is known to deal with are arousal (stimulation), memory, and emotions.

Hemispherical differences

Since we possess two amygdalae, it has been noted that the left and right amygdala serve a different purpose in how we process our emotions. Even though the left and right amygdala have independent memory systems, they still work as a team to encode, store and interpret our emotions.

Studies have reported that electrical stimulations to the right amygdala provoke negative emotions of sadness and fear. When looking at the left side, electrical stimulations induce unpleasant (anxiety, sadness, and fear) feelings, yet also has the ability to induce positive emotions such as happiness.

The right hemisphere is commonly associated with declarative memory. Declarative memory stores various information and facts from previously experienced events which need to be consciously recalled. The right amygdala is also responsible for the retention of episodic memory. Episodic memory stores the autobiographical memory, which allows you to recall sensory and emotional experiences of a particular event.

Development of the amygdala

The development of the amygdalae is an interesting tale that consists of developmental differences between the right and left amygdala, as well as sex differences.

When looking at this area of the brain, there are some observable differences in the growth of the amygdalae. The left is the first to develop, reaching its peak 1.5-2 years before the right. Looking aside from the early growth of the left, the right has a continuous increase in volume for a longer period of time. The right side of the amygdala is often associated with face recognition and fear stimuli. As for the left, it is said that its early development provides infants with the capability of being able to detect danger.

There are also considerable differences in the development of the amygdalae between male and females. In the early stages of development of the brain, it is seen that the limbic system in females grows much more quickly than in males. For males, the structural development of the amygdalae occurs over a longer period of time, while females reach their full growth potential 1.5 years before their counterparts. It is noted that reasoning behind the slower development of the male amygdalae is due to relatively larger sizing.

Sex distinction

In regards to the differences in sexes, this area of the brain is one of the best understood. As briefly described above, we see that the amygdala is larger in male adults and in adult rats.

Adding to size, the functioning of the amygdalae differs in males and females. In one study, participants amygdala activation was looked at by watching a horror movie. Results of this study showed a completely different lateralization in the amygdalae between males and females. They showed that enhanced memory of the film was related to more activity occurring in the left amygdala and not the right. For males, it showed that the memory of the film was related to the right and not the left.

The left is responsible for the recollection of details, which results in more thought than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli. This can be used to attribute why we see less of a physical response in women than in men. The right has been linked to taking action and has been linked to negative emotions. In this scenario, this is why we see males respond to emotionally stressful stimuli in a physical manner.

Functions of the amygdala

  • Memory – This area of our brain has been linked to the storage of our emotional memory. The amygdala is heavily involved in calculating the emotional significance of events that occur in our lives. Since the amygdala has connections to other regions of the brain, it also has an influence on emotional perception. What this means, is that the amygdala alerts us to notice significant events even when we are not paying attention.
  • Arousal – Sexual desire is largely mediated by the limbic system. Activation of our amygdala can cause sexual feelings, memories of sexual intercourse, penile erections, orgasms, uterine contractions, and ovulation.
  • Hormonal secretions  When experiencing stressful events, our amygdala sounds the alarm by sending a distress signal to our hypothalamus. When this happens, the hypothalamus activates the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) by sending signals through autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. Then, the glands will respond by pumping out epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The amygdala is also strongly modulated by serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.

What happens if the amygdala is damaged?

Because there are two amygdalae, if there is a bilateral lesion, there is a reduction in aggression and fear. This may mean you may adopt a superman complex and feel like nothing can hurt you or scare you… unless it’s kryptonite. A study was done on monkeys who had bilateral lesions of their amygdala and researchers reported a huge drop in fear and aggression, just as we see in our human counterparts.

Don’t hold your breath there though. Even though the monkeys showed a significant drop in fear and aggression, humans are faced with a lot more when the amygdala is destroyed. A bilateral lesion can cause an individual to have an impaired ability to interpret emotional facial expression. Kind of sounds like Autism. This type of lesion has actually been linked to autism, with MRI scans detecting an increase in amygdala volume.

Neuropsychological correlates of the amygdala

Advancements in neuroimaging technology have made it possible for neuroscientists to make significant findings related it. Data has shown that the size of an individual’s amygdala can be linked to anxiety, and how size may fluctuate due to antidepressant medication consumption (left). Certain studies have also shown children with anxiety tend to have smaller amygdalae.

Aside from those two interesting facts, data has shown that the amygdala plays a large role in particular mental disorders as well as other mental states.

Fear

A very rare genetic disease known as Urbach-Wiethe disease is responsible for focal bilateral lesions of the amygdala in people. Such a disease results in individual’s showing no signs of fear. This finding of the disease continues to prove that the amygdala plays a large role in triggering the state of fear.

Aggression

Several studies that have looked at animals have repeatedly shown that stimulating the amygdala induces sexual and aggressive behavior. 

Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenic patients are known to have enlarged ventricles, as well as enlarged amygdalae.

Social interaction

It has been said that there is a positive correlation between amygdala volume and the size and complexity of social networks. Size, in this case, means the number of contacts an individual may have, while complexity stands for the number of different groups an individual belongs to.

Data reveals that the larger a person’s amygdalae are the larger amount of social networks an individual has.

It has also been shown that the amygdalae are responsible for processing the violations of personal space. It has been observed in fMRI scans that this region of our brain is activated when it is sensed that a person is standing very close to them. For example, the person who is being scanned is aware when the observer is physically close to them, then when the observer is standing at a distance.

Sexual orientation

In recent studies, it has been suggested that there may be possible correlations between connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. It has been reported that homosexual males have a tendency to show more feminine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual males do. Homosexual females tended to show more masculine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual females.

Bipolar Disorder

It is well documented that in bipolar disorder, there is great amygdala dysfunction during facial emotion processing. Those who have bipolar disorder have also displayed increased activity in their amygdala.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Patients who suffer from PTSD typically have a hyperactive amygdala in response to various stimuli that are in some way connected to trauma.

Depression

It is also overactive in those who suffer from depression, especially when you present them with sad stimuli. However, when presented with “happy” stimuli, their amygdala is under-active.

Anxiety

It is responsible for setting off a chain reaction for this disorder. It begins to react because some environmental stressor has convinced this area of the brain that you are in danger. However, this is only an issue to worry about when the amygdala is regularly triggered.

Amygdala and other brain regions

It holds some very special connections with other areas of the brain. It is known to make reciprocal connections with the hypothalamus, thalamus, septal nuclei, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, the brain stem, and the cingulate gyrus.

The amygdala receives input from all senses as well as visceral inputs. Visceral inputs derive from the hypothalamus, parabrachial nucleus, septal area, and orbital cortex. Visual, auditory, and somatosensory information comes through via the temporal and anterior cingulate cortices. Olfactory sensory information is received from the olfactory bulb.

Some output pathways of the amygdala include:

  1. Stria terminals
  2. Ventral amygdalofugal pathway
  3. Directly to the hippocampus
  4. Directly to the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus
  5. Directly to the entorhinal cortex

Amygdala/emotional hijacking 

Emotional hijacking is an event that occurs when an individual’s cognitions are overpowered by their emotions. You normally see emotional hijacking occur in the context of fear and aggression. A perfect example of emotional hijacking to kick off this section is when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. According to Daniel Goleman who coined the term amygdala hijacking, this bad decision on Tyson’s behalf is the perfect example of it.

The neocortex – the “thinking” brain, has been completely overridden, and the amygdala fires up taking over total control of the brain; Thus the name “amygdala hijacking.” Hijacking can cause a person to perform irrationally, making decisions that are destructive. Not only does this take a toll on an individual (people who experience emotional hijacking are very remorseful after they realize and reflect on what they have done), their social relationships also take a huge hit. Emotional hijacking can lead to verbal or physical attacks, and such a surge of rage can easily cause an individual to severely harm a person, giving them the capacity to kill.

Something to keep in mind is that emotional hijacking is a phenomenon that requires build up. Troubling past experiences that are crippling an individual can be the direct link to why someone will have an outburst like this. When a person has an outburst, they don’t last long, but the consequences can be quite damaging as a result.

However, there is no need to worry. Not all emotional hijacks are distressing. Goleman states that there are positive hijacks. He gives an example that if a joke strikes a person as funny, and their laughter is explosive, that is a limbic response.

There are three signs you can look out for if you happen to experience an emotional hijack:

  • Strong emotional reaction
  • Sudden onset
  • Post-episode realization if the reaction was appropriate or not/regret

Areas of the brain are especially fascinating, especially when looking at them in more depth. Learning about them gives us an idea of what’s going on within ourselves, and we are able to give a reason for our behavior.

Is this your favorite part of the brain after reading the article? Do you have a favorite area of the brain? Please let us know in the comments below! We hoped you enjoyed this article. 🙂

Non-Native Accent in the Job: The Problems

In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, a mix of different cultures becomes more prevalent in our job and also our private life. For this reason, being exposed to peers speaking in a non-native accent has become very natural. Especially prominent are non-native accents in English, as this is considered the universal language of communication nowadays. With the trend of the world becoming a smaller and smaller place, so increases the number of people speaking with a non-native accent. Foreign languages and accents gain more importance especially in the job sector which we generally consider a positive development. However, evaluating the psychological burdens of placing a non-native speaker in an environment of native speakers is a necessity. Especially large are the problems of discrimination. Although the judging of people based on physical characteristics has decreased, foreign accents are still used as a way to discriminate certain cultures.

 What is a non-native accent?

A non-native accent is described to have a different pronunciation of vowels and consonants, and a difference in stress and tone is seen when compared to a native accent. The speaker with the non-native accent often applies some of the rules and sounds of his native language. If a sound in the second language is not present in the speaker’s native language, that phoneme will be substituted by the most similar phoneme in the native language causing it to sound different in the second language. Though individuals with a foreign accent are very proficient in that language, the accent is what remains and is not easily lost after a developmental window has closed. Until puberty, an individual is able to learn a foreign language and at the same time acquire the native accent. However, for any language that is acquired later in life, the non-native accent is almost impossible to get rid of. Nevertheless, the ease of obtaining a native accent in a foreign language also depends on the years the person has lived in the foreign country and how similar the phonemes are to the native language.

Typically, native speakers find it fairly easy to spot a person talking in a non-native accent and to them, it is perceived as foreign or even “wrong”.  According to United Nations reports, today more than 232 million people live in a country different from the country they were born in.

Brain areas involved when speaking in a non-native accent

Learning a new language is highly recommended for anyone. According to a Swedish study, a brain scan of adults learning a foreign language and therefore speaking in a non-native accent revealed increases of gray matter in language-related brain regions. Depending on how well they performed in learning the foreign language and their efforts they put in, their brain areas developed differently. The most profound observation was the growth of the hippocampus and three other brain areas to be associated with better language learning. Even though this study only took into account short-term changes, there is no doubt a more developed brain through learning languages will be beneficial for older ages. One of the benefits, for instance, is the later onset of Alzheimer’s in multilingual compared to monolinguals.

A different study looked at brain activity when native English or native Japanese were asked to identify between the English /r/ and /l/. From experience, we know native Japanese speakers to have trouble differentiating between these two particular English phonemes. Also in the study, the Japanese speakers had problems differentiating and producing the two phonemes. The reason for this was found to be a difference in activity of specific brain regions when comparing the two groups. These areas are responsible for the perception of speech.

Non-native accent: The problems of discrimination in the job

With an influx of immigrants, the selection of foreign potential employees of a company becomes bigger as well. Discrimination of minorities is unfortunately still commonplace. A correlation between physical appearance and employability is often observed. However, we should not only look at visual markers but also direct our attention to the several non-native accents of the immigrants when they learn a foreign language. In short, the question is whether discrimination only happens on the physical level or if we are prone to judging people depending on their non-native accents.

A study has looked at this question and conducted an experiment with five groups (Mexican speakers, Indian speakers, Chinese speakers, American speakers and British speakers), each speaking in a particular non-native English accent. They were asked to attend a job interview over the phone. Each group prepared a short sentence containing identical words they had to recite. Obviously, the pronunciation of the individual words due to their accent differed depending on the group. Managers were then asked to listen to each sentence and subsequently evaluate how probable it would be for them to hire each employee based on the sentence they were hearing. Most surprisingly, even the sentence was only different in pronunciation and not content, a speaker with a non-native accent was less likely to be hired than a speaker with a native accent (which was, in this case, an American accent). Nevertheless, one observation was striking: The British speaker group was more likely to be selected by the managers when compared to the native group.
This shows a tendency to discriminate employees whose country is not as highly developed as America. If a person emigrates from a country that enjoys a similar economic status, that same person is not discriminated, in this case, the British group.

In another paper, we see a preference to cooperate with peers speaking the same accent rather than a person talking in a non-native accent.
The results of both studies suggest not only discrimination to happen on a physical level, but also in language. It is a problem which should definitely be considered and tackled as the job recruitment process should not take into account non-native accents if the applicant is able to communicate as well as his native peers. Often, however, the decision to reject a speaker with a non-native accent is made subconsciously with the employer being unaware why the applicant with the foreign accent did not happen to fit into the profile.

Why are non-native accents difficult for our brain?

One possible reason employers might discriminate non-native accent employees has to do with the credibility of the speaker. The manager perceives the employee with the foreign accent to be less credible as he is speaking. This is explained by cognitive fluency referring to the ease with which the brain processes stimuli. If a foreign accent is heard, cognitive fluency is reduced resulting in a more difficult processing of the person receiving the message from the speaker. We see a similar phenomenon in the stock market. Psychologists have shown shares with an easy-to-pronounce name to outperform shares with a hard-to-pronounce name. Similarly, if factual statements are manipulated to be processed easier (writing it in an easier-to-read font), the receivers’ judgment of the statement changes. Cognitive fluency, therefore, plays a crucial role in decision-making suggesting that the employer selecting a native speaker in favor of a non-native speaker cannot really be blamed for his decision.

Ways to reduce prejudices against non-native accent speakers

We might be aware of racial segregation considering physical appearance or religion of an individual. However, it is of paramount importance to add foreign accents to the list of factors contributing to racism. Experiencing racism using non-native accents compared to physique or race is however much more subtle. Judging foreign accents is very subjective (one person considers a foreign accent as very pronounced whereas another person might experience the same person to have only a marginal non-native accent). As a consequence, in real life situations as in the job sector, it becomes challenging to know whether a person’s foreign accent indeed contributed to discrimination. Nevertheless, as the studies have shown, a non-native accent leads to changes how an employer might think about a foreign applicant. As the prevalence of non-native accents is going to increase, we need to be aware of this problem and at best develop strategies to view everyone equally based on their accent. Here are a few things you can do when communicating with a person who is difficult to understand because of his or her non-native accent:

  • Do not pretend to understand the foreign speaker. Instead, ask the person to slow down his speech if you have difficulty catching his or her words.
  • At the same time, you should speak slowly too. This benefits the receiver with the non-native accent to pick up the sounds more easily.
  • Don’t raise your voice. You might think you are speaking too quiet, however, it is most likely not a problem of speech volume, but simply that the foreign speaker is not used to the different pronunciation.
  • If the accent of the person is too strong to understand the message, don’t act rude! It might come across impolite to say “Hey, I don’t understand you!” Instead, ask them to repeat the sentence.
  • But most importantly, focus on the content of the message! Do not waste time evaluating how the pronounced words of the non-native speaker sound.

Do you have a non-accent experience you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below!

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

It is likely that a few seconds ago before you arrived here you were typing on your computer or phone. We do it quickly and automatically, but… have you ever wondered how precise and harmonious the movement of your fingers is when you type? To get you to write correctly and efficiently, various structures are activated in our brain. The part of the brain in charge of coordinating these movements is the Cerebellum and it participates in many of the activities that we do every day: from walking to organizing a sentence.

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

What is the Cerebellum?

The Cerebellum is a brain structure partially concealed by the cortex. Classically it was thought that it was only in charge of harmonizing body movements, but for some years now it has become evident that it is involved in various cognitive functions. The Cerebellum has a shape similar to that of the brain, although a much smaller size. In fact, his name means “little brain.” It is divided into two hemispheres, and the portion of the cerebellum between them is called vermis. It is also the only part of the brain that has Purkinje Cells, a type of neurons essential for its functioning that allows the integration of the information it receives.

What is the Cerebellum?

Where is the Cerebellum located? What parts does it consist of?

The Cerebellum is located in the back of the brain at the level of the brainstem bridge, under the occipital lobe (slightly above the nape of the neck). It binds to the rest of the brain through the lower, middle and upper cerebral peduncles, which are a set of nerve fibers that carry information from the rest of the body to the Cerebellum (afferent), or from the Cerebellum to the rest of the body (efferent). In fact, if it weren’t for the cerebral peduncles, it would be separated from the rest of the brain.

Cerebellum

What is the Cerebellum for? Definition

The precision, harmony, and beauty of ballet dancers’ movements require a lot of dedication, practice and, above all, cerebellum. Each step of the choreography has a very determined force, rhythm, amplitude and, without the help of the cerebellum, all movement would be reduced to a set of spasms and falls (something that few people would be willing to pay for). However, in addition to this very important function of motor coordination, the cerebellum also participates in cognitive functions, without which ballet professionals could not, for example, reproduce movements by heart. Thus, the functions of the cerebellum are divided into motor functions and cognitive functions.

  • Motor Functions of the Cerebellum: This structure receives information about, among other things, our equilibrium, the position of our body, which muscles we must move to perform a specific action, the direction of that movement and integrates it (gathers and works all of the above). When he has developed the information (something he does very, very quickly), he tells the rest of the brain how to carry out the movement. Thus, it regulates the intensity, speed, precise direction, travel and other characteristics of the movement so that, as a final result, we make a harmonious, precise and coordinated movement. To perform this function, the different parts of the cerebellum specialize in specific body parts, following a correspondence between the muscles and the surface of the cerebellum. A topographical representation has been made with this correspondence, called “homunculus of the Cerebellum”, which indicates which parts of the Cerebellum are in charge of which parts of the body.
  • Cognitive Functions of the Cerebellum: For a relatively short time we have begun to study in depth what cognitive and emotional functions the cerebellum participates in. The most common way to investigate the functions of brain structures is to study the cases of people who have suffered some brain damage and, consequently, their cognitive abilities have been altered. Thus, more or less accurate conclusions can be drawn from the areas involved in the various functions (if X brain area is damaged and the person stops speaking, it is understood that this brain area participates in the ability to speak). The problem is that brain damage (such as stroke or head injury) is usually quite extensive, with more than one area affected as a result. This makes it difficult to study, as it is not known whether loss of function comes from damage in the X or Y area. However, different studies have investigated cognitive functions as well as the most recent advances, which allows us to know that the cerebellum contributes to the following cognitive processes:
  1. Language and Cerebellum: Participates in syntactic composition and grammar in general, in the articulation (that is really a motor function of the phonatory apparatus muscles), in the hidden articulation (that is, when we speak for ourselves in an internal dialogue, without making any noise), in the generation of words, in oral comprehension and in the establishment of a semantic relationship between words.
  2. Visuospatial skills: Complex visuospatial tasks such as the construction or mental rotation of images.
  3. Memory and learning (motor and non-motor): The cerebellum, along with other brain structures (basal ganglia), plays a major role in procedural memory (cycling, driving, writing your name in pencil or reading on the mirror) and in learning motor skills, habits and behaviors. It is also related to habituation and awareness, and to classical and operative conditioning. It is also activated by learning motor sequences and learning complex sequences. In conjunction with other structures (supplementary motor area and frontal operculum), the cerebellum participates in verbal operative memory, although it is not clear whether in internal coordination, in error settings, or both. On the other hand, the cerebellum can also take part in spatial memory.
  4. Executive Functions and Cerebellum: Executive functions are intimately related to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. However, being such a complex series of cognitive functions, they require the participation of other brain structures, including the cerebellum. The functions in which the cerebellum participates (although there is not much consistency in some of them) are planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning, working memory, verbal fluency, and inhibition. Some studies suggest that the cerebellum may be active during decision making or coordination of two tasks at the same time, increasing speed and automating new movements.
  5. Attention and cerebellum: In selective attention activities or other more complex functions that require attention, such as calculus, the cerebellum is involved.
  6. Personality, emotions, and cerebellum: Some studies point to the role of the cerebellum in controlling and modulating emotions. It has also been linked to personality in regulating appropriate or inappropriate behaviors.

Do you want to know the state of your cognitive processes?

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Damage to the cerebellum does not paralyze any muscle, but it has important consequences. Some of these are:

  • Ataxia: Ataxia is probably the most characteristic disorder derived from the alteration of the cerebellum. It consists of a movement disorder due to the inability to properly coordinate the different parts of the body involved. Errors of amplitude, speed, direction or force occur involuntary motor movements. Patients try to compensate for these errors, making coarse movements. Cerebellar ataxic gait is easily recognizable by uncoordinated and unbalanced walking. The problem is especially evident if the patient tries to walk with his or her eyes closed.
  • Cerebellar dysplasia: Characterized by a scandalized or explosive speech (speaks in a jerky manner, with different intensities, in a disharmonic manner).
  • Cerebellar nystagmus: It is an erratic, rapid and involuntary movement of the eyes.
  • Dysmetria: This is the inability to properly coordinate the movement of your limbs with the visual information you receive. If you try to touch your nose, you miss since the moment has passed.
  • Asynergy: The movements performed are carried out in a nonsynergistic way, that is, without coordination or harmony. The person tends to lose balance and adopt strange postures to compensate for this loss of balance.
  • Adiadochokinesia: The inability to predict the positions of body parts when movement is performed.
  • Intentional tremor: The tremor that occurs when a movement is made. Conversely, people with damage to the cerebellum do not usually have tremors at rest (being still).
  • Hypotonia: The muscles are flaccid, as they have a lower tone than normal. Because of this and lack of balance, patients with cerebellar damage tend to perform many limb movements. Coordination tests show rebound phenomenon.
  • Cognitive-affective cerebellar syndrome: When the cerebellum is affected, cognitive abilities and the control of related emotions are also altered, causing “inordinate thinking”. Cognitive abilities such as executive functions, attention, visual-spatial abilities, memory, language, or personality may undergo minor or severe changes.

Now that we know this, it is time to thank our cerebellum not only that we are able to walk, talk, type or dance in such a coordinated way, but also that it allows us to learn, structure the language correctly and plan our behaviors. In short, thank you for making it possible for us to live our daily lives with normality and harmony.

Anatomy: What are the cerebellum parts?

The cerebellum is a relatively large structure with a surface full of transverse grooves. According to these furrows, the Cerebellum is divided into the following lobes:

  • Anterior lobe (Spinocerebellum or Paleocerebellum): It connects to the spinal cord. It is in charge of muscle tone, trunk, and limb movement.
  • Posterior lobe (Brain cerebellum, Pontocerebellum or Neocerebellum): This is the portion of the cerebellum that is located near the Posterolateral Fissure. It takes care of voluntary movements and cognitive functions.
  • Flocculonodular lobe (Vestibulocerebellum or Archicerebellum): It is the portion of the cerebellum below the Posterolateral Gap. Connects with vestibular and reticular nuclei. It takes care of balance, body position, head displacement and eye movements.

What nuclei is the Cerebellum composed of? What are they for?

The nuclei are a set of neural bodies that work in a coordinated way to carry out a series of more or less specific functions. The most important nuclei are:

  • Nucleus fastigium (or of the roof). It receives the projections from the bark of the vermis.
  • Globose nucleus (back interposition). The cortex that remains between the vermis and the two cerebellar hemispheres (paravermis) is projected into this nucleus.
  • Emboliform nucleus. This nucleus also receives projections of the paravermis crust.
  • Dentate nuclei: It is divided into three parts. It receives afferent, or incoming, signals from the premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex via the pontocerebellar system

Cerebellar connections

In order to perform all its functions correctly, the cerebellum establishes a large number of input and output connections with various areas of the nervous system. However, it is an “isolated” structure from the rest. The only gateway to and from the information is the cerebellar peduncles. The peduncles are a set of afferent and efferent fibers that, depending on their position, can be divided into three pairs:

  • Lower Cerebellar Peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the spinal cord to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of afferent and some efferent fibers.
  • Middle cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the brainstem bridge with the cerebellum and vice versa. It consists almost exclusively of afferent fibers.
  • Upper cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles linking the midbrain to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of efferent fibers and some afferents.

In this way, the different connections of the cerebellum enter or exit through one or more of each pair of peduncles. If we look at what direction the information is going (if they enter or leave the Cerebellum), we distinguish between afferent and efferent, respectively. The afferent carry information from different parts of the body to the cerebellum. The main fascicles or tracts of afferent fibers are:

  • Vestibulocerebellar fascicule: vestibular system – PCI – flocculonodular lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar dorsal fascicule: Spinal cord – PCI – anterior lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar ventral fascicule: Spinal cord -PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Cuneocerebellar fascicule: Spinal bulb- PCI -anterior lobe.
  • Olivocerebellar fascicle: Spinal bulb- PCI- anterior lobe.
  • Reticulocerebellar fascicule: PCI and PCM-spinal lobe.
  • Tectocerebellar fascicule: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Trigeminocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Rubrocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Corticoponticocerebellar fascicle: Cerebral cortex – PCM- posterior lobe.

On the other hand, the efferent refer to fibers that come out of the cerebellum and send information to other parts of the brain. The main efferent is:

  • Cerebelovestibular fascicule: flocculonodular lobe- PCI-  vestibular system.
  • Motor flocculo-occulomotor fascicle: flocculonodular lobe -PCS – motor-occulo-vein.
  • Cooked fascicule: flocculonodular lobe -PCI -vestibular system and oculomotor cores.
  • Intermediateolivary fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS- the inferior olive core of the spinal bulb.
  • Interproposedorreticular fascicle: anterior lobe – PCI – reticular formation.
  • Interproposedorubic fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS – Red nucleus – Cerebral cortex.
  • Interpostectal fascicule: anterior lobe – PCS -quadrigeminal tubers.
  • Dentadotalamic fascicle: posterior lobe- PCS – Thalamus.

This article is originally written in Spanish by David Asensio, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

The comfort zone: What it is and is it beneficial? Tips to break out

The comfort zone. It contributes to making us feel mentally safe in our everyday life. Developing a routine such as arriving to work always at the same time using a fixed mode of transportation or cooking a good meal we have a lot of experience with contribute to reaching a higher productivity in these tasks. However, on the other hand stepping out of this powerful state of comfort has proven to be even more beneficial for the individual. But how can this be when we are constantly told to follow a routine in order to achieve maximum performance? Keep reading to find out.

The comfort zone

What is the comfort zone?

The word “comfort zone” is widely accepted in the English language and appears frequently in everyday life.

It generally describes a “behavioural state within a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk”.

What this suggests is a steady performance if the person does not experience a change in anxiety. If however fluctuations in anxiety and skills are seen, a change in performance, either upwards or downwards, will be observed as a result.
To grow as a person, it is essential to break out of this state of comfort every once in a while by exposing yourself to a change in anxiety. Nevertheless, it is a difficult process stepping out of our comfort zone as at the beginning of this process, the person doing so will experience more anxiety than before.

Why do we feel at ease inside the comfort zone?

A lot of reasons exist why humans are wired to stay within the comfort zone.
Each of us has our own “comfort zone” where we feel at ease. It implies familiarity, safety and security keeping our anxiety and worry at a minimal level. Challenging yourself by stepping outside this zone of comfort would mean increased levels of anxiety and stress triggering a hormonal cascade. Human beings are naturally wired to avoid these changes in anxiety and stress.

Why is it so hard to leave our comfort zone?

  • Stress and Anxiety: Whenever we break out of our comfort zone, a stress response followed by anxiety is triggered. The natural response is to remove the stressor as quickly as possible. The only way to achieve this is mainly returning back to the comfort zone which makes keeping yourself out of your comfort zone extremely challenging.
  • Uncertainty: This will be a natural consequence if someone leaves his or her comfort zone. For the majority, the feeling of uncertainty leads to insecurity and can be perceived as a threat activating a stress response. The more uncertain you are, the higher will be your levels of stress mentally and physiologically.
  • New situations require extra energy: Inside your comfort zone, the person has established a routine allowing him or her to perform the tasks automatically (without a lot of thinking). These processes are run by the basal ganglia (a brain area responsible for executing habit-based behaviour), tasks such as shaving, brushing our teeth or bathing. If we stay within the comfort zone, the associated tasks are run by this area of the brain operating very energy efficient.
    Novel tasks, on the other hand, require the input of the prefrontal cortex (a brain area responsible for logical reasoning) which consumes a lot more energy than the basal ganglia. If the energy is depleted (which happens quickly in the prefrontal cortex), we feel discomfort as the prefrontal cortex is tightly linked to the amygdala (the emotional centre of our brain). According to these points, remaining inside the comfort zone seems highly favourable. It provides a state of mental security leading to regular happiness, low anxiety and reduced stress. However, we are often told to leave this state of comfort. This is achieved by expanding your comfort zone and is highly recommended. In order for this to happen though, we temporarily need to abandon this state of comfort, a task which is not so easily accomplished.

The comfort zone, the optimal performance zone and the danger zone

Before we can talk about leaving the comfort zone, we have to understand the core concepts, mainly the existence of three different zones:

  1. The comfort zone
  2. The optimal performance zone
  3. The danger zone.

We first look at an early experiment conducted with mice in 1907 by Yerkes and Dodson.
The study revealed “anxiety to improve performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.”

This suggests an increase in performance when anxiety levels are higher than normal. However, if the person is too anxious, performance will drop again. This relationship can be applied to the three different zones. We find ourselves in the comfort zone when anxiety levels are minimal. Depending on what extent we leave our comfort zone, anxiety levels can increase sharply or only marginally. In the case of a marginal increase of anxiety levels, the person experiencing it will be in the optimal performance zone. This is a state where increased skills are seen and where the elevated anxiety levels can be kept under control.

A real-life example would be an important job interview. If the person is not required to attend the interview, he or she is in the comfort zone and anxiety levels are minimal. However, as soon as the day of the interview has come, anxiety levels rise. When conversing with the manager, the potential employee is not only able to control his/her anxiety levels, but most of the times even possess increased communicative skill. He is now operating in the optimal performance zone.

But what happens in the event where anxiety levels do not increase only by a little, but significantly? The person would leave his or her comfort zone too but would end up in the danger zone in which performance is worse than in the comfort zone. The level of anxiety would simply be too high. Following the example, imagine the same job interview with a person suffering from autism (a disorder in which the affected person finds any social interactions extremely challenging). For this person, anxiety levels will be much higher when he or she is invited to the interview which leads him to perform worse (he skipped the optimal performance zone completely). For this individual, a task which would not have caused the anxiety to rocket would have been more appropriate in order to shift swiftly from the comfort zone to the optimal performance zone.

But why is it beneficial to leave the comfort zone?

A few benefits have become already visible, mainly the increase in performance and the acquisition of new skills when being pushed away from the comfort zone. However, the list of advantages does not stop there.

  • Increase in productivity: Comfort is a productivity killer. If we do not have the sense of uneasiness to complete a given work before a deadline, we tend to postpone and do the minimum work required. This phenomenon is often seen in students procrastinating. If the deadline for an assignment is far, the work they put in tends to be low. However, as soon as the deadline is approaching, they start to increase their productivity drastically as they are now in the optimal performance zone.
  • Radical changes become easier to handle: Some people always wish to stay within their state of comfort, however leaving the comfort zone sometimes just happens out of the blue and there is nothing you can do about it (change of job, move to a different home, change in a relationship, an illness). A person that has already left the comfort zone once or twice will be more able to handle also those life changes and transitions. It is important to be at peace with the unknown to combat the negative effects that change can bring. Leaving the comfort zone on a regular basis can help with exactly this.
  • Expansion of your boundaries in the future: Leaving the comfort zone creates a feeling of anxiety which has to be coped with. The more times you leave your state of comfort, the better you are able to cope with this increase of anxiety. This allows you to become accustomed to this state of optimal anxiety where you perform at your best. Ultimately you are willing to push yourself more when repeatedly exposed to the unknown.

Tips to break out of your comfort zone

  • Become aware what lies inside and outside of your comfort zone!
    What are the things that you want to accomplish but triggers a feeling of anxiety in you? Identifying these is of utmost importance in order to know how to expand your comfort zone. Draw a circle and write everything down you associate with discomfort outside of the circle. Inside the circle, you write down everything that triggers comfort. This process will allow yourself to identify not only your discomforts but also your comforts.
  • Consider failing as something positive!
    It sounds difficult, but try to see failure as your teacher. What did this negative experience teach you? You can use this knowledge to increase your chance of success for the future.
  • Surround yourself with people taking risks!
    If you are willing to improve your skills to leave the comfort zone, stick to people that do exactly that. The influence of them will certainly have an effect on your behaviour.
  • Honesty with yourself!
    We have all been there. A task that we are afraid of is waiting and we say “I don’t have time for this right now!” Most of the times though, you are lying to yourself. Instead be honest and say “I’m afraid to do this!”. Confronting your fears will increase your chances of moving forward more easily.
  • Take it slow!
    Start by taking small steps when moving out of your comfort zone. Try making a plan of goals you want to achieve. Try to not be overambitious in a short period of time or you risk becoming demotivated. It is essential for you, to return to your comfort zone from time to time as explained in the next paragraph.

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

Brian Tracy

Why should we return to our comfort zone from time to time?

Though it is important to break out of your comfort zone, it is equally important to also return to this state of comfort from time to time. It is indeed beneficial to leave the comfort zone, but staying outside for too long and you might end up getting your stress and anxiety levels too high. Ultimately, you have to return to the comfort zone to prevent your anxiety levels from taking over and you end up in the danger zone. Once in this zone, your performance drops sharply and leaving the comfort zone for good becomes even more challenging than before. For this reason, allowing yourself some breaks from time to time is essential.

Color Psychology: How Colors Affect Us and What Each One Means

What is color psychology? How do colors influence emotions? What do the colors mean? What do the colors convey in different cultures? The meaning of colors resonates much more than we believe in our daily actions. We tend to associate each tone with certain feelings and various concepts. In this article, we will explain the fundamentals of color psychology, its practical applications and give you useful tips to use it.

Color psychology

Psychology of color: What it is and why is it useful

Color psychology is in charge of investigating how the colors affect us. Colors can change our perception, alter our senses, make us emotional, etc. Colors have the power to improve our memory and attention, and even the power to convince us to make a certain decision. Knowing the meaning of colors is key to a better understanding of our behavior.

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The influence of colors can completely change the idea we have of a certain space or element. Imagine for a moment a toy for toddlers. It is very likely that you have thought of a bright colored object with strong contrasts that reflect energy and vitality. If we think now of the same toy, but we paint it black with silver details, what emotion does it give us? Does it seem childlike?

Maybe yes. There is no mandatory color code for each range of elements. However, throughout our life, we are making associations. We rely on what we see every day and we don’t usually stop to think about it. But if we see by chance a blue banana, orange lenses or a fluorescent yellow tree, we can’t help but be surprised.

Color psychology is a field of study in continuous development. This field is essential for professionals such as creative departments, ad agencies, and marketing.  However, discovering the meaning of colors can help us choose the right outfit for a special occasion, choose the ideal gift for a friend according to his personality or just feel at home in our own home.

Color Psychology: brain and emotions

Colors influence your emotions and mental health. We are subjected to an immense amount of stimuli and we carry out an infinity of different tasks. Our brain faces many challenges simultaneously. It does not give us time to process everything we grasp through our senses.

Therefore, the associations that we develop on aspects such as colors or shapes save us a great amount of time, since they are processed automatically.

In addition, we are deeply emotional. Colors interact with our memory, awaken feelings and guide reason. They remind us of nice things like those yellow and orange rain boots we had as kids or colors might irritate us for example when we see a blue sweater that was our ex-boyfriend favorite color. 

For example, there is no need to know in depth theories about color psychology to be aware that colors such as pink and red are associated with love or romanticism (ergo Valentine’s day). If we enter a store that has this color combinations (inadequate proportions), we are likely to suddenly remember how much in love we are, and maybe even buy something for our significant other. 

The following video explains a little about how colors can affect your mood.

What does each color in psychology mean?

This topic has sparked passionate debate. Professionals such as psychologists, sociologists, linguists or market researchers interpret the meaning of colors. They analyze phrases such as “being green with envy” or “feeling blue” examining the most frequent colors according to the different categories of products or doing extensive studies to different populations.

Color Psychology: Meaning of White

It is the color of snow, milk, cotton or wedding dresses. White represents a new beginning, lightness, perfection, purity, peace, innocence, etc. In hospitals, white is one of the predominant colors, it is aseptic and conveys calm.

White shirts are used to create a good impression. It is an immaculate and impartial color. White is neutral and clean. A blank sheet of paper opens you a world full of creative possibilities, but it can also give us some sense of anguish if we don’t know how to use it.

Color psychology: Meaning of White

Color Psychology: Meaning of Yellow

The color yellow is linked to positive concepts like optimism, youth, confidence, and creativity. We always paint smiley little faces in yellow and rarely dress in yellow clothes on a sad day. It is the color of the sun, gold or animals as nice as giraffes.

However, yellow is a contradictory color. It is related to betrayal, greed, lies, insanity or warnings. Yellow has also been linked to groups that have been excluded such as Jews, prostitutes or single mothers. It should be noted that in China it is the most valued color and lacks any negative connotations.

Color Psychology: Meaning of Orange

The orange color immediately captures the attention of the person staring. This color is found in several fruits and vegetables, the sunset and redheads. Many of the things we describe as “red” are actually orange, like fire or roof tiles. According to color psychology, orange represents extravagance, energy, transformation, and uniqueness.

Color Psychology: Meaning of Red

Red is the most passionate color, it causes alarms and catches our attention immediately. According to color psychology, red is linked to love, blood, joy, suspense, closeness, war or forbidden. It is shown on the road signs and sale prices. It is the color of urgency.

It is impossible to go unnoticed that is why corrections on any task are made in this color. By the way, wearing this color has effects on sexual attraction, both in people and animals.

Color Psychology: Meaning of Pink

According to color psychology, pink represents sweetness, femininity, delicacy, charm, sensitivity, courtesy, illusion, eroticism, etc. It can be childlike because of its connection with childhood and innocence.

Pink is one of the most popular colors in our culture, some love it and buy everything in this color and others find it irritating, sexist or cheesy. Fuchsia is usually associated with cheap and tacky products.

Color psychology: Meaning of Pink

Color Psychology: Meaning of Purple

Purple is an unusual and enigmatic color. According to color psychology, purple is linked to luxury, religion, and sexuality. It is not frequent in nature and stands out over the rest if used correctly.

It has been related to homosexuality and adopted by feminism. It reflects nostalgia, fantasy, banality, ambition, vanity, etc. It is very ambiguous and has the potentials to be used any way creatively.

Color Psychology: Meaning of Blue

Blue is a favorite among many. According to color psychology, blue symbolizes harmony, fidelity, sympathy, peace, serenity, trust, honesty, communication, etc. It should not surprise us that several social networks (and all types of corporations) use it in their logos.

However, blue can also be cold and distant. It shouldn’t be associated with food since this color makes us suspect the food has expired. It is suitable for homes and rooms that need a relaxing tone. 

Color psychology: Meaning of Blue

Color Psychology: Meaning of Green

Green is related to nature, it reminds us of grass, youth, hope, health, fertility, money, etc. According to color psychology, green is fresh and harmonious, peacefulness, youth, and tranquility. People with environmental awareness are called “green”.

However, it is not always linked so positively. It is associated with poison (shown in many Disney movies).

Color Psychology: Meaning of Brown

Brown represents laziness, vagrancy, filth, vulgarity or ugliness. It may seem bland and outdated. Brown is one of the least appreciated colors.

However, it is also the color of wood and autumn, it reminds us of sturdy, warm and pleasant homes. It is also found in foods like chocolate and having a tan tone is highly valued these days. Brown is a color that has a large presence around us and arouses multiple associations.

Color psychology: Meaning of Brown

Color Psychology: Meaning of Gray

According to color psychology, gray mainly symbolizes old age and sobriety. It can be dark, mediocre and bland or related to cover ups such as “gray literature” or “gray areas”.

On the other hand, gray also reminds us of “gray matter” or elegance in fashion.

Color Psychology: Meaning of Black

Like for the color white, there is an open debate about whether black really is a color. According to color psychology, black is closely related to the world of night, power and death. It represents denial, mystery, mourning, hatred, cruelty, etc. People associate black cats with bad luck and nobody wants to have a black day.

However, black is an elemental color in any closet, every girl must have a little black dress. It is functional and very useful for going to an evening party or looking more elegant on an occasion that requires solemness.

In Eva Heller’s book about color psychology, the meaning of these colors is deepened. It has been one of the main sources of this article.

Color psychology: Meaning of Black

Color psychology: The meaning of colors in different cultures

It has been investigated whether the color classification is a natural process or defined by society. Berlin and Kay, after an analysis carried out in different cultures, affirmed that there were common tendencies in all of them when categorizing the colors. It is believed that there are six main colors around which the rest are grouped. There are several consensuses but still, there are variations when ordering them.

As for the meanings, in our society it is not polite to show dressed in bright colors to a funeral, we prefer dark colors. In Asia, however, mourning is linked to white. This color is better suited to their culture and their idea of reincarnation. However, many years ago in Europe, this color was used by women, who were covered with huge white cloths.

In fact, within our own culture, the meanings of colors can change.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that girls started dressing in pink and boys in blue.

In recent years this custom has been widely criticized. Over time, we are redefining the meaning of colors and creating new conventions that may one day be forgotten or vary according to fashions.

Color meaning can change from one person to another. We can perceive them in a certain way or another depending on our sense of fashion, our emotional state or moment that we are going through.

We don’t all see the same colors, some people might be color blind or the opposite they are able to discriminate even the slightest variation between two colors that are practically the same. People with synesthesia, who are able to hear colors.  

However, this does not imply that color psychology is tremendously subjective and changing. If we analyze the context correctly, it can be very useful.

Color Psychology: Applications

Colors have been used to try to cure diseases, they are in every description we make and much has been speculated about the relationship of colors and personality. In fact, we tend to choose colors that fit our mood and that we believe represent us. Here we will tell you the main professional and daily applications:

Color Psychology for Creative People

Perhaps the first professions that come to mind when talking about colors and color psychology are professions related to creativity. Designers (graphic, fashion, interior, etc.), artists, advertising agents, and marketing need to know how to get other people’s attention and communicate with them.

Take for example Tv shows, the color palette of a children’s program differs greatly from an adult one. Making your brand pop in a society that is overwhelmed with images is a complicated mission, but thanks to color psychology it is possible to connect with your target audience and create an emotional impact. Predicting how the audience will react to your message is essential when trying to convey a message correctly.

Color Psychology in Companies

The corporate image of companies is fundamental to their success. If we were to name the colors of a brand and say the category they fall on you would probably guess right if their color psychology was selected correctly. For example, a red can with soda (you probably already know what I’m talking about).

To give us a sense of coherence and impact in our memory, brands condense in their logo their marketing personality through the colors. They are essential marketing strategies. If a food franchise would use different logos each time, we wouldn’t associate them together, and our memory would be disorganized. This in turn, for the company, could be detrimental, since there is no familiarity with their product and they would lose customers.

However, an image is not everything, but it helps in these cases and even more so with the competitive and changing markets today. In fact, we can see color changes in logos depending on the characteristics of their audience and social trends. It is no coincidence that some brands go from their usual colors to green, which as we’ve established is eco-friendly.

Colors are not only important to the public. Employees can increase their well-being and increase productivity if they work in a place where they feel comfortable.  A dark work environment with dim lights can cause your employees to be overwhelmed and even generate job stress.  Instead, if we paint walls white and put some touches of green and blue and other warm colors, it will become a more welcoming and productive place of work.

Color Psychology in daily life

Colors also affect us when making the most common decisions. Since children, we are asked what our favorite color is and everyone has their personal preferences. Almost everything available is made in several colors to suit everyone’s taste. 

When choosing something silly colors don’t really matter, however, there are situations in which we have to contemplate more variables. If we are going to buy a car we have to be sure not to make a mistake. We will spend a lot of time in it, we may fancy something daring like orange, but it is possible that we end up getting tired of it. On the other hand, a car of a more discreet color such as black or navy blue may be barely visible at night. This dilemma is solved after many headaches and hearing lots of opinions. 

The color of our clothing says a lot about us, and there are different situations where using a type of color might be more appropriate. Positive Branding managed to put together a great infographic to make sure you are sending the right message with your color clothing and the occasion. Check it out below.

Postive Branding: The Psychology of colors.

Useful Tips for Using Color Psychology

1- Not always our favorite color is the most suitable for everything

We are likely to be passionate about purple, but perhaps if we have overused it in our bedroom we might start feeling anxious. Before choosing a color always think previously about the function you want it to have and choose accordingly.

2-The context is fundamental to interpret and choose colors

We know the importance of cultural variables and the circumstances of each situation when choosing a color. It’s important to take these things into account when choosing a color. For example, an attorney going for an interview in a bright red suit is highly likely he will not succeed. However, this doesn’t now mean that you shouldn’t try new things or innovate, but try to choose according to the cultural variables and situations.

3- The key is knowing how to combine the colors well

We may have to send a letter or design a poster and have taken into account all the elements of color psychology. Nonetheless, there are more aspects to consider, such as the effect that two colors can have together. For example, yellow and orange represent autumn but if you combine brown, gray and black it may come off as conservative and expressionless.

4- Colors also have to be functional

Many football teams have probably thought about dressing their players in white jerseys, however cleaning it would be a big issue. There are colors more resistant to dirt, others more suitable for heat, some are perfect if we want to go unnoticed, etc. Take into account the function the color is going to have and choose accordingly.

5- Use colors to enhance your memory

If you want to prepare for a test and do not know how to remember all the steps of a certain list, write each point in a different color. Mnemonic rules encourage our learning. In addition, if you have to make a presentation, you can also improve the memory of your audience in this way. Use color psychology to highlight the most important thing you have to say and associate each color with its meaning.

6- Be consistent

If you have a business think carefully about what you want to convey. When you have finished this analysis, evaluate what your brand has to do to achieve it. It is essential that all elements of your company are congruent between them. The help of a professional designer who takes these aspects into account may be essential for rescuing a business or launching it successfully.

Thank you very much for reading this article. And now, will you analyze the meaning of the colors that surround you? Will you put these tips into practice? If you want to know more about color psychology or want to contribute something, please comment below.

Left Brain, Right Brain: 9 Ways Our Brain Hemispheres Work Together

What are the functions of each brain hemisphere? What does each half of our brains do? Is it true that the left side is the analytic hemisphere and the right side the emotional side of the brain? Is it true that the ‘right brain’ is the creative one and the ‘left brain’ is the logical one? In this article, we will reveal everything you need to know about brain hemispheres.

Brain Hemispheres

We have often been told that the left hemisphere of the brain is the analytic, mathematical, and logical side, the side which is in charge of reasoning. You’ve probably also heard that the right hemisphere of the brain is the emotional, creative side.

In fact, people often use this difference as a way to define personality, referring to people as either left-brained or right-brained. “If you are a creative, sensitive, and passionate person, then you use your right hemisphere more; if you are an analytical, organized, and thoughtful person you use your left hemisphere more.” We hear that all the time, so let’s check some facts to see whether there is any truth to this common saying. 

How the Two Hemispheres Work

How do the brain hemispheres work?

There is still a lot left to discover about brain hemispheres but here are some facts we do know:

  • The brain is composed of two well-differentiated halves called hemispheres. These halves are connected by a structure called the corpus callosum, which facilitates communication between the hemispheres. These two hemispheres are in constant communication, and in most activities, both work equally.
  • Experts suggest that our level of intelligence is directly related to the quality of the connection between hemispheres. The more connected they are, the more intellectual we will be, such is the example of Einstein’s brain.
  • Each hemisphere is responsible for the activity on the opposite side of the body. That is, the right hemisphere will be responsible for the movements of the left side of the body and vice versa. Therefore, an injury to the left brain will have an impact on the right side of the body.
  • The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception and artistic ability is found bilaterally, although they may show some superiority in the right hemisphere.
  • Contrary to what was thought until recently, according to a study, the visual processing of numbers is performed by both hemispheres equally.

What Do The Two Sides of the Brain Do?

The Right Hemisphere of the Brain:

It deals, to a greater extent, with the following functions:

  • The consciousness of oneself.
  • Recognizing our image in a mirror.
  • Facial recognition.
  • Processing the emotional part of language, such as prosody and intonation.
  • Feelings associated with intense romantic love.
  • Managing visual-spatial attention.

The Left Hemisphere of the Brain

The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for:

  • Understanding and producing language.
  • Mathematical abilities and recalling facts.
  • Processing attractive faces.

In the next video, Ian Mcgilchrist explains why our brain is divided into two hemispheres, and what each one is responsible for.

The Two Hemispheres and Brain Lateralization

Brain lateralization is the idea that some brain functions rely more heavily on one hemisphere than on another. One example of this is when we process language. The left hemisphere is in charge of language processing for the most part, whereas the right hemisphere only processes verbal information in relation to emotion. However, it has recently been discovered that speech is processed in both hemispheres equally, so perhaps language is not as lateralized as we previously thought. 

Likewise, it was believed that a left-handed person’s brain was less lateralized for language development. That is, it was believed that these people would use more of the right brain hemisphere for language, contrary to the general right-handed population. It has been proven that this only happens in 1% of the left-handed population. 

It was even found that the degree of lateralization of some brain functions may vary from individual to individual.

Our brain is lateralized in some of its functions, however, most of these happen in both hemispheres. If a brain region or even a whole hemisphere is damaged or destroyed, other neighboring areas or even the opposite hemisphere may, in some cases, take over the activity typically performed by the damaged region. When brain damage interferes in the connections between one area and another, alternative connections can be developed to bridge the difficulties. This is only possible thanks to the brain’s great ability to adapt, which is called brain plasticity.

Brain Hemispheres: Do we use one more than the other?

A study from the University of Utah, USA, dismantled these myths:

There is no evidence that people use one of the brain hemispheres more than the other. This group of researchers identified brain networks in charge of process lateralized functions (brain functions that are processed more in one hemisphere than another), to see if it was true that some people used more one of the brain hemispheres more than the other.

During the study, the researchers analyzed the brains of 1,000 people and found that no individual was consistently using one hemisphere over another. They concluded that no personality type is related to the greater use of the left or right hemisphere.

Therefore, it is false that some people use one brain hemisphere more than another depending on their personality. Some functions may be specialized in a particular cerebral hemisphere, but the truth is that we use both hemispheres equally. 

Some functions may be specific to a particular brain hemisphere; however, we use both brain hemispheres equally. Even though one hemisphere is specific for a function, it will always work better in continuous communication with the other hemisphere.Scientists can’t even establish that the right hemisphere is our creative brain. Creativity is a very complex process. According to a study, creative thinking does not seem to depend on a single mental process or brain region. Nor is it particularly associated with the right brain, attention, low level of activation, or synchronization with the alpha waves emitted by our brain.

Where Did the Myth of the Right Brain and the Left Brain Come From?

This myth arose from the misinterpretation of Roger Sperry’s experiments on divided brains. Studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry found that cutting corpus callosum could reduce or eliminate epileptic seizures.

However, these patients also suffered other symptoms after communication channels between the brain hemispheres were severed. For example, many brain-split patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed on the right side (those in the left visual field) but were able to name those processed on the left side (those in the right field of vision).

From this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled exclusively by the left side of the brain.

We hoped you liked our article and please feel free to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Peer Pressure: Why We Feel It, How to Overcome it, and Can It Be Positive?

Peer Pressure. When we hear the phrase ‘peer pressure’ we often think back to grade school. We might think of the pressure children and adolescents feel to fit in or appear cool. The phrase may even evoke images of a group of kids cruelly pressuring another kid to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, such as drinking or drugs. But does this pressure carry on into adulthood? How can it be resisted? What mechanisms are responsible for it, and can it be a positive force?

Peer pressure

What is Peer Pressure?

Peer pressure is the influence an individual feels from others in their peer group. The individual may be encouraged to change their behavior, attitudes, and even values to match their peers. People are susceptible to peer pressure because of a desire to belong as well as for a fear of not belonging.

Peer pressure presents itself both explicitly and implicitly, or alternatively, directly and indirectly. Explicit, or direct peer pressure involves an individual behaving in a way that pressures others to change. This can be as simple as a middle school student making fun of another student’s clothes. Implicit, or indirect peer pressure stems from the individual who is feeling the pressure or influence. For example, another middle school student observes that those who appear to have high status wear certain clothing. Because they are eager to fit in, they may start to wear similar clothing.

Peer Pressure in Childhood and Adolescence

The term “peer pressure” most popularly refers to the influences felt by adolescents. This is because adolescents are the most susceptible age group. Susceptibility to peer pressure increases during early adolescence, peaks around the age of 14, then decreases as adulthood approaches.

In childhood, imitation is a core developmental tool. Children observe those around them for useful skills and behaviors they can copy. It is no surprise that, once a child has reached an age where peers are a central part of their life, this strategy of imitation can translate into a susceptibility to peer pressure. Even young children are keenly aware of social hierarchies, and therefore have a strong tendency to defer to adult authority figures and majority opinions. In 2011, Daniel B. M. Haun and Michael Tomasello, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, demonstrated that preschool children could be influenced by a group of peers to change their answer to a wrong one. Every child was handed a book with pictures of animals on both pages and asked to indicate the size of the animal on the right-hand page. Every book was identical except for the last child who would sometimes get a different sized animal. When this child was asked to report their answer last in the presence of the other children, they would often give the same answer as their peers, even if it was incorrect. When they were asked to privately share their answer, however, they were likely to give the correct one regardless of their peers’ answers.

As a child enters adolescence, they tend to spend more time with their peers. Children entering adolescence also become fully aware of the unique perceptions of others around them. In fact, this tendency to think about, or even obsess about what others think is central to the adolescent experience. At this age, people are preparing to find their place in the world on their own. To aid in this process, hormonal changes prompt their brains to focus intently on others’ perceptions. Naturally, peer pressure has a pronounced effect on individuals in this age group.

Peer pressure in relation to adolescence is commonly associated with risky, or otherwise negative or impulsive behavior. It is true that peer pressure plays a large role in these behaviors; connection to peers who engage in risky behaviors has been found to be a strong predictor of risky behaviors in adolescents themselves. Furthermore, risky behaviors most often occur in the company of peers.

Peer pressure

Strategies to Overcome Peer Pressure

While peer pressure may play less of a role in adulthood, often presenting in indirect and implicit fashions, it certainly does not disappear. Here are some strategies to overcome these pressures:

  •  Everyone has a set of values that are unique to them. Think about what your core values are, why you have them, and what they mean for your future.
  •  Be mindful of your own reactions and feelings. When something goes against our set of values, we can often feel it in our gut.
  • Be assertive. Practice confident individualism. Make use of sentences that start with phrases such as “I think”, or “I like”.
  • Don’t be afraid to associate with a wide range of people. Interact with people who are old or young, rich or poor, or of any religion. We are all different, and you might discover values that resonate with you among people you wouldn’t expect.
  • Once you find people that affirm your values, stick with them. If you feel like people no longer share values with you, don’t be afraid to let certain relationships go and seek out new ones with those who do.
  • Don’t focus on critics. They will always exist, regardless of whether you are being true to yourself. People who put others down are likely doing so to soothe their own internal anxieties.

Neural Mechanisms of Peer Pressure

The brain is involved in all of our actions in life. The brain parts that play the biggest role in peer pressure are the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum. Both structures help determine the value of certain actions. The medial prefrontal cortex covers the front part of the frontal lobe and has been implicated in the planning of complex behavior and decision making, as well as personal expression.

The striatum is located in the forebrain and is critical to motor and action planning and reward perceptions. In the context of peer pressure, the medial prefrontal cortex determines which objects or actions peers have an expressed opinion about, while the striatum determines the value and potential rewards of these actions.

Positive peer pressure

Can Peer Pressure Be Positive?

Peer pressure commonly carries negative implications, but it can also be a positive or neutral force. Positive peer pressure occurs when peers support and encourage constructive actions for one another. A typical example would involve grade school students feeling pressured by their peers to perform well on tests. Often based in competition or team work, positive peer pressure like this is commonplace in people of all ages. Positive peer pressure can also come in different forms, such as an individual being put into a position where they feel pressured to donate to charity. In this case, the individual wants to avoid the shame and negative judgment that would result from refusing to behave in a helpful manner. Neutral peer pressure describes pressures to conform that are not harmful to others. This type of pressure occurs most frequently in adolescence and can involve conformity of fashion, speech patterns, and other neutral behaviors.

So, although peer pressure is often a destructive force that needs to be overcome, it can also encourage people to behave in ways that are beneficial to themselves and others. Peer pressure is an important part of the social life that is central to the human experience, which frames our experiences and development in many ways.

We hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a comment below!

References

Mason, M. F., Dyer, R., & Norton, M. I. (2009, November). Neural mechanisms of social influence. Retrieved August 16, 2017, from

Haun, D. B., & Tomasello, M. (2011, October 24). Conformity to Peer Pressure in Preschool Children. Retrieved August 16, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01666.x/full

Synesthesia: Can You Hear Colors?

What is it like to hear colors and see sounds – people who have synesthesia might be able to give a little insight into that. Imagine the world full of new possibilities, sounds, images, and tastes. The way you are able to perceive and sense nature is so different from everybody else. You can say that the sky tastes like plums. When you hear Vivaldi’s four seasons on the piano, vibrant colors appear from every possible direction, representing spring, summer, fall, and winter. You are able to differentiate months of the year by colors and different smells by taste. Some of these are just examples. If you are able to relate to any of them, you might have synesthesia.

What is synesthesia?

Synesthesia

Scientists consider synesthesia to be a neurological and perceptual condition. It comes from Greek words that represent ‘togetherness and sensation’.  It is quite extraordinary and brings a whole different understanding to what surrounds us. In fact, people who have synesthesia most often than not, embrace it. They do not want to ‘cure’ the condition, per say. To them, the world is full of tastes and colors and sounds, depending on their particular type of synesthesia, of course. That’s how they’ve always experienced the world. They understand that Monday to have a green color, but Saturday more of a purple one and it makes sense to them.

Imagine looking at the sun each and every day and seeing that it’s yellow and one day wakes up and realize it’s a bland gray. That’s what it would be like for a synesthetic to lose their sense and understanding of the world. They would not only be very confused for a long period of time. No, despite that, they’d probably also feel sadness and grief for the loss of all of the beautiful imagery, sounds smell and touch that they will never experience again.

It’s quite difficult to understand synesthesia without experiencing it. A sky that tastes like blueberries or colors appearing when you hear music? That sounds crazy to anybody who has not experienced it themselves. Synesthesia, however, is not limited to just these people though. A lot of researchers looked into synesthetic occurrences in the regular population. These studies found that many are actually able to experience synesthesia. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are doing it.

Perhaps, in order to understand it better, you should experience a little touch of what synesthesia can be. This is what scientists call the McGurk effect

The McGurk effect

For a very long time, researchers understood speech as an auditory perception only. Now know the McGurk effect where there is an interplay between auditory and visual stimuli in the perception of speech. It is somewhat an illusion. Scientists, Harry McGurk and John Macdonald coined the effect in their 1976 study. It seems to be that when speech is paired with visual stimuli, a very extraordinary multi-sensory illusion happens.

They achieved this surprising effect by making a recording of a person voicing a consonant. After that they put the recording with a face, however, that face was expressing a different consonant. When the voice recording was heard by itself, the participants recognized it for what it was. However, when McGurk and Macdonald paired the voice recording along with a face expressing an incongruent sound – the participants heard a different sound. That sound ended up being the combination of the voice recording and the visual face articulation. The McGurk effect shows an absolutely astounding example of multisensory integration and how both, visual and auditory information can integrate and result in a unified experience.

If you can imagine, a lot of researchers found the illusion quite interesting and attempted to replicate it with different populations and conditions. What they found was quite astounding. Summerfield & McGrath found in their 1984 study that the effect happens with the use of vowels and not just consonants. The McGurk effect is present in pre linguistic infants according to the 1997 study by Rosenblum, Schmuckler & Johnson. Astonishingly enough, the effect even worked across a variety of languages which Massaro, Cohen, Gesi and Heredia showed in their 1992 study.

Synesthesia and the McGurk effect

It seems that even people who do not have the condition fall for the McGurk effect. The effect is very strong. Even when you know what to expect from it, you still cannot change it. When you think about it, it makes sense. The world we live in is full of senses and a variety of experiences. We do not just perceive sound by itself, or cannot look at something in a complete silence. There is always an ongoing integration of senses that happens all around us. It is no wonder that sometimes in our lives we are able to experience a synesthetic episode.

Types of Synesthesia

Synesthesia can appear in a variety of forms and types. In fact, researchers have been able to find over seventy types of synesthesia. We characterize the different varieties by what type of sensation they are able to cause and where that sensation came from. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Number-Form Synesthesia: those who have this type of synesthesia are able to perceive numbers as mental maps. That means that these people will put the numbers in certain positions in space that will form a mental map. Whenever a person thinks of a number, a mental map will appear in their mind. Francis Galton introduced this type in his ‘The visions of sane persons’ work.
  • Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia: people with this type will experience different tastes that correspond to specific words or phonemes. Badminton could taste like mashed potatoes but suitcase will taste like a chocolate cake. Quite a fun type, this one!
  • Grapheme Synesthesia: this one emerges with perceiving numbers and letters as different colors. This is one of the most common types of synesthesia. Interestingly enough, different people experience different colors in association with numbers and letters. Some commonalities occur. Letter ‘A’ often appears red for some reason.
  • Personification: A variety of ordered sequences will show up as different personalities. For example, Friday can be a happy go-lucky girl who enjoys dancing while Monday is an angry and bitter old man. Do you see any connection with real life?
  • Chromesthesia: people perceive sounds as a variety of colors. There is a variety of different experiences within this type with some people only perceiving colors during spoken speech and others seeing them during musical pieces. This type is quite common among musicians.
  • Misophonia: this one is not a particularly nice type of synesthesia. People who have this type experience very negative emotions when it comes to sounds. Examples of experienced emotions can be anger, disgust, sadness etc. Fortunately, this is one of the rarer types and it happens due to a disturbance between the limbic system and the auditory cortex.
  • Mirror-touch-pain Synesthesia: these people will experience a sensation of touch when they see somebody else being touched. The pain type can experience pain in a similar way when they see somebody else in pain. Researchers have linked this particular type of synesthesia with mirror neurons and regions responsible for empathy in the brain.

There are many other types of synesthesia. If you think you might be experiencing synesthesia but did not find your specific type above, you can type in your symptoms into google search, and sure enough, there will be somebody else with similar symptoms.

Synesthesia: Diagnostic Criteria

Synesthesia

Up to this date, there is no clear cut method for diagnosing synesthesia. Certain criteria exist that specialists adopt in order to help with the diagnosis. Keep in mind, however, that some of the leading scientists and researchers do not follow these criteria. Despite that, it gives at least a little bit of guidance in diagnosing synesthesia.

Symptoms

  • Projection: people will see the sensations outside of their body (hearing sounds outside during a musical piece)
  • Memory: associations that the synesthetic has will stick with him and will often overpower new associations that he or she might experience in the course of a lifetime.
  • Involuntary: sensations happen without the control of these people
  • Emotion: sensations can be perceived either positively or negatively.
  • Duration: the perceptions have to be stable and unchangeable.

Synesthesia and the Brain

Synesthesia

The original cause for synesthesia is still unknown. Due to such a variation in types of synesthesia, it is quite difficult to generalize brain studies to all of the different types. The brain uses different parts of the brain for the processing of different senses, therefore, with such a large variety of synesthesia types, an involvement of different brain parts happens. Researchers have to study each type separately and see whether there are some similarities between them. Some studies reported the activity in the superior posterior parietal cortex in relation with the grapheme-color synesthesia. Both visual cortex and the auditory cortex are activated during the McGurk effect because we are both listening and seeing at the same time.

The consensus among scientists is that depending on the type of synesthesia, the brain regions responsible for that sense will activate. What we speculate is that the uniqueness of synesthesia comes from a different way of network connections within the brain. Baron-Cohen and colleagues mention the excessive quantity of neuronal connections in the brain of synesthetics. According to him, during normal perceptual experiences, we have different brain areas for different senses and a different perception. The connection between those areas is present but is restricted. However, when you have synesthesia, your brain develops more connections between different neurons. This makes the restrictions between the areas to disappear and leads to synesthesia.

Peter Grossenbacher, on the other hand, says that the feedback communications are not subdued in a way that it happens in normal perception. The information that is processed from areas responsible for high-level of processing is not able to come back to each signified area. Instead of different senses going back to areas responsible for single senses, they mix together, allowing synesthesia.

Ramachandran and Hubbard support the increase in neural connection theory, but they also add that it happens due to the fact that the pruning between different sensory modalities is decreased.

Pruning is the removal process of the synaptic connections and more neurons in order to enhance the work of already existing neural transmissions.

Synesthesia and Genetics

Some studies have found a genetic link with the development of synesthesia. Asher and colleagues claim there is a link between auditory-visual synesthesia and certain chromosomes. Due to previous research suggesting a familial trend and a genetic factor helping in the development of synesthesia, they decided to look at 43 different families who had it. They found four different types of loci that could cause the variation in brain development in the brain of those who have the condition. What is interesting is that one of the genes that they identified, might be important for pruning.

Thomsen and colleagues focused on different genetic components. This leads to a variety of scientists to believe that synesthesia occurs due to a combination of a variety of genes.

Famous people throughout history with Synesthesia

Synesthesia is more common than some people believe. In fact, a variety of famous people are believed to have had this condition.

  • Vincent Van Gogh: chromesthesia
  • Lorde: music –> color
  • Vladimir Nabokov: grapheme -> color
  • Pharrell Williams: chromesthesia
  • Stevie Wonder: chromesthesia
  • Billy Joel: chromesthesia, grapheme-> color
  • Duke Ellington: chromesthesia

Prevalence

As mentioned before, diagnosis synesthesia is quite difficult so knowing its prevalence can bring some challenges as well. Before people used to think that the condition is quite rare, however, nowadays we know that it is a lot more common. Simner and colleagues in their 2006 study investigated the overall population. They found that around 1% of the population have the grapheme-color type. Around 5% have some sort of type of synesthesia. Due to the difficulty of diagnosis, this could be a very low account of the overall numbers, however.

Synesthesia is very common and a lot of people might have it. Family members, friends, co-workers, and classmates. Even you might have some sort of type of synesthesia and not know about it!

CogniFit evaluates the capabilities of astronauts in the space mission: Poland Mars Analogue Simulation 2017 (PMAS 2017)

CogniFit participates in the “space race” to reach Mars by assessing the cognitive performance of astronauts under adverse conditions.

  • CogniFit, a leading neuropsychological assessment, cognitive stimulation and brain training program, participates in the Poland Mars Analogue Simulation 2017 (PMAS 2017) international space mission by assessing the crew’s cognitive abilities under adverse conditions on the Moon or Mars.  The technological innovation of CogniFit helps to prepare the arrival of the man to the red planet. Investigating and answering questions about how the human being behaves is fundamental to achieving mission success.
  • CogniFit’s technological innovation helps prepare humans arrival to the red planet. Investigating and answering questions about how human beings behave is fundamental to achieving this mission success.

CogniFit – Cognitive Assessments and Brain Training in Astronauts

The Space Generation Advisory Council, supported by various institutions (such as the United Nations), is sending 6 astronauts to a simulated mission on the planetary surface of the Moon and Mars. This analog simulation project will be carried out in Poland, hence its name: Poland Mars Analogue Simulation 2017 (PMAS 2017).

Participants will have to follow a rigorous schedule of space exploration activities. The first three days of the mission, the astronauts will live and work in a habitat that simulates that of the Moon. The remaining 11 days, the simulated habitat will be Mars. These astronauts will continuously have support from the mission’s support center, that has more than 25 members. In the “Martian phase” of the project, they will have a delay of 15 minutes in their communications, since it is intended to simulate all the conditions of the real habitat.

CogniFit, a leading provider of neuropsychological assessments, cognitive stimulation, and brain training programs, participates in the international space mission by daily assessing the astronaut’s and crew’s cognitive abilities.

Investigating and answering questions about how the human being behaves is fundamental to achieving this mission’s success. Knowing the effects of isolation and other adverse circumstances that can happen in hostile habitats, like that of the Moon or Mars, increases necessary knowledge to launch a space mission to the red planet.

The participants of the mission come from Spain, the United States, France, India, Israel, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, and many more, with a total of 28 countries. For two weeks, the scientific team will perform studies that address a multitude of scientific disciplines ranging from engineering to astrophysics, psychology, geology, and biology.

This makes the Poland Mars Analogue Simulation of 2017 one of the most interdisciplinary, international and multicultural analog missions ever undertaken. CogniFits technological innovation contributes to change history and science by helping to better understand the human brain and prepare them to arrive on the red planet. You can also be like these astronauts, evaluate and train your cognitive abilities by Registering Here.

CogniFit-Poland Mars Analogue Simulation 2017

Shopping Addiction: How does it start and how to overcome it?

Shopping Addiction. Have you ever gone to the supermarket for a couple of things and ended up with a full shopping cart? Why are we so attracted to buying? What happens in our brain when we are buying?

Surely more than once you have spent more money than expected. What prompts us to buy compulsively? There are several factors involved and we will review them throughout this article.

Shopping addiction

Shopping Addiction: Why do we like to buy?

In a consumer society like the one we live in, buying has become not only a necessity but a leisure opportunity. “Go shopping” is an expression that already sounds familiar and is recognized as a playful moment and an occasion cultivate social relationships. This is one of the reasons why we buy compulsively because we relate this activity to a “game”, the purpose of this is to buy and spend money on products.

Shopping Addiction Causes: An obsessive need to spend

We have talked about a consumer society, but this is not enough to generate “real consumption”. What is essential is the need within the individual to shop. How is this achieved you might ask? Through advertising.

The advertising or messages we receive continuously, on their own, are harmless, but its goal is still to sell and that can create certain problems for some people. Lately, advertising campaigns have stopped selling products or services, to start selling principles. Where once a nougat was sold, now the campaign sells family values and family unity.

Human beings associative nature causes us to instinctively associate these values with the products they are selling us.  The problem arises when principles such as happiness and personal satisfaction are associated with shopping by individuals with desperately seeking these values. Like alcoholism and gambling addiction (which is now affecting many young people), or many other disorders, the need to buy compulsively responds generally to an insane association of a dangerous habit (in excess ) with a fictitious feeling of “happiness”. That is when we have to realize that we have a problem.

Shopping Addictions: What decisions do we make when buying?

Although many are convinced that when they shop, they are shopping consciously, the reality is completely different. Emotional factors such as loyalty and trust come to light when we fill the shopping cart. We all have a favorite brand for different things and if those things are available we tend to buy more of them.

Do Brands Influence our Shopping Addiction?

Who wins? Pepsi or Coca-Cola

In a study of the University of Houston, two well-known enemy brands of soda “Pepsi” and “Coke” were tested. The objective of the study was to verify to what extent the brand influenced the evaluation of the drink. Surely, by statistics, you prefer and/or buy Coke more often than Pepsi. And surely one of the arguments that support that decision is “the taste.”

However, this study showed that in a blind tasting, Pepsi is much better off than Coke in participant evaluations. Nonetheless, after discovering the brand, opinions still tipped the balance towards Coke. This is the perfect example of how issues without relative importance such as the brand, prevail over much more important factors like flavor, bearing in mind that what we are going to buy is a soda.

Shopping Addiction: Does price influence it?

The price is one of the most relevant factors when deciding whether to put something in the shopping cart or return it to the shelf. Price is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it serves as a limit because it produces “pain” (how many times we have asked the shopping clerk how much something costs and almost died when you heard the answer). However, it also serves as a reference of quality. Does the following situation sound familiar?

  • “Which one do you buy?”
  • “Buy the one that is more expensive and will be better”

Since when is price an indicator of quality? Maybe if you are buying cereals this does not sound so familiar but what if we speak about wine? Unless you are an expert wine taster, more than once you have not known which to buy and surely you have spent a bit more than planned to make sure that “it is good”.

Watch the following video as an example of how sometimes we overrate wine when they are all usually the same.

Shopping Addiction: Do the quality and the price go hand in hand?

An experiment in Stanford University verified how the price can change our sensory perception. They did a systematized study similar to the one on the video and found out that marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. If we think of the previous sections about how brands influence us and how we interpret the price as a sign of quality, we get a perfect cocktail for shopping addiction.

Shopping Addiction: Why do we get carried away when buying? 

There is no doubt that our emotions play an important role in buying, but why? The answer will seem simple: because we are programmed to buy.

To make decisions we use certain mental shortcuts to not overload our brain. In addition, we have a huge capacity for the association. Advertising campaigns take advantages of these aspects in order to make things seem necessary or attractive.  The fact is that our brain does not often pay attention to decisions that it considers easy and, instead of reading the components of a shampoo, for example, it prefers to look at more simple details like familiarity or confidence leading to shopping without thinking.

Shopping Addiction: Tips on how to shop without going overboard

However, we can take advantage of some features of our mind to avoid spending more money than expected.

1. Buying with a credit or debit card is more comfortable, but studies show that you spend more than with cash. This is because you can carry your budget in cash and not be tempted to use more with your card. Your brain also collaborates with this since it has more trouble getting rid of tangible things, making it easier to control your spending. 

2. Create a list of what you want to buy. If you go with a list you will have something to stick to however appetizing a product may be. This will help you resist because after all, if you don’t consider it necessary at home, then it probably isn’t.

3. Avoid going to the supermarket hungry. If you were to go hungry be prepared to go home with all sorts of unnecessary goods. If advertising is already aggressive, and we open ourselves to the temptation, we will fall easily into a shopping addiction.

Shopping Addiction: How does your brain fool you into buying more?

Companies have realized these characteristics of our brain and take advantage of them to maximize sales. Many business owners have started organizing their business so that the journey to the cashiers is clockwise, maximizing the sales. This is because the customer has to walk around the whole store, in order to pay.

There is a variety of products in every store, but excessive variety is counterproductive. Since our brain likes easy decisions, even though it sounds great to have seventeen brands of air freshener in a store, people will end up not buying any for not knowing how to decide.

In a clothing store, the same thing happens with one extra variable mirrors in clothing stores can change your image completely. You might try something on and feel wonderful in the store and then go home and realize it doesn’t fit properly. This is due to the type of mirror and light used in dressing rooms. Other examples of how we are encouraged to buy in establishments are:

  • The price: adding decimals doesn’t change much the price but tricks our brain. For example, 99.99 euros is basically the same as 100 euros.
  • The products: Items that are common and most needed such as bread or milk are the most hidden or occupy lower shelves. Meanwhile, leaving at eye level everything that is not strictly necessary.
  • Music: The music choices in every store all well thought out. It is made to make you feel comfortable and happy.

Remember to always carry a list, cash or be aware of every aspect that might lead you to a shopping addiction. If you feel that your shopping is getting out of control it is important that you see a specialist.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mario de Vicente, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Pregnancy Changes the Brain: Does Pregnancy Brain Have Negative Effects Long Term?

Pregnancy changes the brain. She took her pregnancy test and it was confirmed, she was going to bring a new life into this world. What an exciting time in a mother’s life when she discovers she is pregnant, the bliss fills the life of her loved ones, and from that day onwards, she lives a life of not only a woman or a wife but also takes up a new role of a mother. It is natural to have mixed feeling when a woman realizes she is pregnant, especially if she is experiencing it for the first time. She has to educate herself on many aspects of the new change, the do’s and the don’ts and, most importantly, the changes her body is going to go through. As science and technology have progressed, the awareness that pregnancy has the ability to alter a woman’s life in terms of the hormonal, physiological and emotional state of the body is much talked about, and everyday new studies are being contributed to the understanding of these changes. But did you know besides the established facts of gaining weight, hormonal changes, change in taste buds, sometimes sore feet and elevated levels of blood pressure and sugar levels, there is a strong connection between pregnancy and the brain? Let’s get educated on how pregnancy changes the brain!

How pregnancy changes the brain

Do you have “pregnancy brain”? Take the test below to find out!

1. How often do you walk into a room meaning to do something, only to forget what you were supposed to do?
  • The surge in hormones directs your attention elsewhere, which may cause you to forget things more often than usual!
2. How often do you forget common, everyday things (Ex. forgetting to put on shoes, forgetting names of family members)?
  • Sleep deprivation combined with all of your hormones can contribute to memory loss. But fear not, brain games can help you bring back some of your usual clarity!
3. How often do you feel overwhelmed?
  • It's completely normal to feel overwhelmed, especially if it's your first child! There's a lot to worry about between preparing for the new baby and caring for your own health. Just remember to take a deep breath every once in a while, and try out the tips below.
4. How often do you feel frustrated about not remembering as much as you used to?
  • It's common to feel frustrated, especially when you don't feel like your normal self. Check out the tips below to learn how you can combat this, and feel more like yourself!

Pregnancy changes the brain-General body changes

The development in a pregnant female’s body is a week by week progression and as they cross each trimester (a period of three months), the changes are more evident and noticeable. What are the changes that occur? Why do these changes happen? Are the changes reversible?

Many scholars and organizations are advocates to answer basic and complex questions that may arise during pregnancy for mothers to be. The Office on Women’s Health, U.S Department of Health and Human services (OWH) is an organization that is dedicated to educating women around U.S towards various female health related topics such as cancer, birth control, pregnancy and much more. According to OWH, the following basic information on stages of pregnancy is significant for women,

  • First Trimester (week 1 to week 12) a female’s body goes through a major hormonal change which further affects each and every organ in their body. Furthermore, the hormonal change is responsible for the tiredness, headaches,  mood swings, and food cravings.
  • Second Trimester( week 13 to week 18) observes changes such as body aches, darkening of the skin around the nipples, itching on the abdomen, sore feet and palms, stretch marks and weight gain. These changes may vary from person to person.
  • Third Trimester (week 20 to week 40), the mother can feel the baby move, but many of the discomforts of the second-trimester increase and as the baby grows, the pressure on the mother’s bladder is increased adding to the uneasiness.

As stated above, the changes mentioned (along with many others) are due to the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. Elevated levels of Estrogen and Progesterone (main pregnancy hormones) are primarily responsible for the variations in a female body at the time of pregnancy both externally and internally. This may also indicate how and why pregnancy changes the brain.

Pregnancy changes the brain- Gray Matter

Now that we have a basic idea of how the body changes during pregnancy, let’s try to understand how pregnancy changes the brain.

In a more recent study published in 2017 by, Hoekzema and colleagues “Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure that focused on the brain change that occurs during pregnancy. The pre and post pregnancy MRI testing of 25 first-time mothers and fathers study highlighted the fact that pregnancy alters the brain structure of the mother substantially. The MRI reports suggested that Gray Matter(GM) volume was reduced in a few areas. However, this reduction was not noticed in fathers and women who did not experience childbirth. Also, the brain changes were noticed 2 years post pregnancy, confirming long lasting effects of how pregnancy changes the brain.

“Loss of volume does not necessarily translate to a loss of function,” said Hoekzema, “Sometimes less is more.”

The study of the brain and how pregnancy changes the brain has been a subject of study for many neuroscientists and other in related fields. Many studies have suggested that the gray matter is responsible for emotions, sensory perception, decision making, cognition, speech, self-control, and memory. Modifications in the gray matter might limit a mother’s social cognition skills but it prepares her with adaptive methods during the motherhood transition. The study also concentrated on the evidence that the depletion in gray matter volume overlaps the part of the brain that is actually responsible for a mother being able to recognize her baby’s needs after the baby is born. In addition, the study also provided us with significant evidence reflecting the association between the quality of mother and infant attachment is predicted due to how pregnancy changes the brain.

Pregnancy changes the brain- Hormones

As you already know, the brain gets flooded with hormones during pregnancy. During the first trimester, it’s common to feel a mix of happiness, anxiety, or even upset after an unplanned pregnancy. These feelings can intensify in the second trimester. And as you grow more uncomfortable in the third trimester, your feelings of anxiety might grow as well. For some mothers, these emotions can be more intense than usual, leading to severe anxiety symptoms or depression. And while some of the blame can be placed on the stresses of becoming a parent, we can also blame the hormones for changing the chemical balance in the brain.

But this all helps the mother to prepare for childhood by being less responsive to stress and more responsive to her child. Although it seems like all it does is change your cognitive processes or functions, it’s really helping you to be a more sensitive mother. For example, some studies actually show that when a fetus moves, the mother’s heart rate, emotions, and skin conductance increase, even if she’s not aware of the movement. A hormone, called oxytocin, also plays a major role in pregnancy. It helps to contract the muscles of the uterus during birth and is actually used by doctors to slow down bleeding during birth. And during pregnancy, the hormone helps the mother feel calmer, get more sleep, and to get more nutrients, to help with her energy levels. Once the baby is born, oxytocin is released by both mother and baby, which helps to create a sense of euphoria and to foster the mother-child bond. Want to read more about the types of neurotransmitters?

Pregnancy changes the brain

Pregnancy changes the brain- Pregnancy brain explanation

In an article published by Lisa Galea 2014 “Mother’s Day Science: From ‘Baby Brain’ to Cognitive Boost”  it was stated there are studies that provide evidence yielding that a female brain shrinks between 4 to 8 percent during pregnancy which causes a mother to be forgetful which is also called as “baby brain” or “pregnancy brain”. In addition, Galea also stresses that the changes in the brain occur due to the elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones which further results in memory impairments in a pregnant female.

 Even if we place some of the blame on the hormones, only some studies show cognitive deficits during pregnancy. In fact, other studies actually show that pregnant women perform just as well as other women in cognitive tests. So what really is to blame?

Well, some people argue that, while the hormones are preparing you for motherhood, it’s directing your attention away from things you would normally pay attention to. Combine that with worries about the baby, your health, and sleep deprivation, it’s a wonder you can even function at all! So the bottom line is, just because your brain feels a little “foggier” than usual, doesn’t mean you’re losing any IQ points. It just means that your brain is getting you ready to be the best mom you can be. It means that pregnancy changes your brain in fact but in a positive way. Luckily, you can still train your brain with cognitive brain training programs, which will help you keep your cognitive skills in top shape throughout your pregnancy!

Pregnancy changes the brain: Your brain after birth

The fogginess felt during pregnancy eventually goes away after birth. And while your brain is trying to rebalance its chemistry, it’s also directing its activity to places that will help you as a mother. For example, during pregnancy, activity increases in areas controlling social interactions, empathy, and anxiety. In the postpartum period, these changes are amplified by even more hormone surges. In addition, a mother will start to feel overwhelming emotions of love, protectiveness, and worry about raising a baby. You can see the crazy effects of how pregnancy changes the brain!

Some research has shown that there is growth in the amygdala and the hypothalamus. This helps with emotional regulation, survival instincts, and the production of hormones. This growth increases weeks and months after birth. This has been linked to mothers having a positive view and positive feelings towards their baby. It also allows a mother to wake up in the middle of the night when their baby is crying, without getting too frustrated as explained in the video.

Knowing about all of these emotional changes allows us to understand things like postpartum depression, obsessive compulsions, and anxiety. In fact, amygdala damage is associated with higher depression rates in mothers. Studies also show that reward centers (such as the thalamus and amygdala) in the brain actually light up whenever a mother just stares at her baby. This causes the attentiveness and the affection a mother feels towards her baby. But in depression, this activity isn’t as prominent.

The process of childbirth is the most beautiful experience that a woman goes through and what is more amazing is to learn the changes her body goes through prior and post pregnancy. Researchers and neuroscientists are working to investigate more about how pregnancy changes the brain and body. As studies are being published, there are other questions that may arise, like “would brain change have a negative effect on a woman if she gets pregnant more than once?”

How to keep your brain sharp?

Pregnancy changes the brain can be overwhelming and it can add greatly to your stresses. Follow these tips to keep your brain sharp, and to keep you mentally healthy!

  1. Sleep deprivation can lead to much of the forgetfulness experienced during pregnancy. Not having enough sleep prevents the brain from focusing on caring for your baby. So the answer is obvious, get more sleep! This might seem like an impossible task, but getting at least 8 hours a night can really help you feel back on your feet. Fight the urge to be productive while the baby is napping and instead, opt to take a nap. And when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, try to trade it off with your partner, so you feel less groggy in the morning.
  2. Write things down. Or more specifically, write everything down. Writing will help you greatly in trying to remember things. Not to mention, having everything in one place will keep you sane. Invest in a planner or notebook, and carry it with you everywhere, so you’re always on top of things.
  3. As established before, try playing some brain games. Brain games allow you to use your cognitive abilities and stimulate your brain using specific training exercises. CogniFit offers a large variety of free online mind games, which are specifically designed to target your overall brain health.

However, with the studies published, we can now confidently say that the changes that occur in a female’s brain due to the reduction in the gray matter are a positive change for both the mother and the child.

Do you have any questions or ideas? Leave a comment below! 🙂

References

Hoekzema E, et al. (2017) Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. Natural Neuroscience 20, 287–296.

 

Emotional Contagion: Everything You Need to Know

Emotional Contagion. Have you ever been in a bad mood and all of a sudden it seems like everyone around you is in a bad mood, too? Do you feel that your emotions and mood can be “caught” by others? Psychology says emotional contagion is the one responsible for how moods and emotions can affect others. Let this emotional contagion guide help you find out how “contagious” you are!

Emotional Contagion

What is Emotional Contagion?

Emotional Contagion is the ability to influence the emotions and behaviors of others, either directly or indirectly. The etymology of “Contagion” in emotional contagion comes from the conscious and unconscious acts of sharing our emotions with others via verbal or physical expression. Though the word “Contagion” sounds intimidating, emotional contagion is used as a strategy in work settings and relationships. Our brain adapts to an “emotional culture” and it helps us to read other’s emotions to show us how appropriate our responses should be.  Neurologists have found that mirror neurons are responsible for this phenomenon and are a useful learning tool.

Some people are more sensitive to emotional contagion rather than others. Because it can influence thoughts and feelings, the results are changes in mood as well. It is sure to note that there are certain moods and personalities that are more susceptible to being “contagious” than others.

Why is Emotional Contagion important?

Humans are social beings. We are born equipped with the evolutionary capacity of emotional contagion to help synchronize our emotions and express our wants and needs. A simple expression is a newborn baby crying to be fed because it’s the only way they know how to get food from their caretaker. This is a primitive tactic that assists in later recognition and processing of feelings and understanding how to deal with them in an appropriate manner.

Emotional Contagion is also found to be closely linked with empathy. Lack of empathy can be a sign of psychological disorders or cognitive disabilities. Scientists agree that there is an emotional climate and culture that tells us which emotions we should or should not display. And those who lack empathy may not be sensitive to processes of emotional contagion, therefore result in situations where inappropriate emotions or behaviors are expressed.

Emotional Contagion is the result of our own and others’ interpretations of thoughts and feelings. The result is expressed via mimicry and facial expressions. Imagine that you made plans with a friend but they need to cancel and perhaps you didn’t want to go in the first place. You may say, or express, that it’s a pity, but in reality, you feel a sense of relief. This is an example where one’s thoughts and behaviors don’t match. But you wouldn’t want to tell your friend that you didn’t want to go after all and that you’re ultimately relieved, right? A situation like this uses emotional contagion to let us act appropriately and remain successful in our emotional climate. Self-control and afferent feedback processes allow us to execute this correct emotional behavior.

Research shows emotional contagion is detectable in how verbal and nonverbal cues are processed by. Emotional intelligence, specifically recognition, and understanding can help us in identifying how we process emotional cues. Particularly, studies have found that our conscious assessments of other peoples’ feelings are influenced more by what others said—and in contrast, peoples’ own emotions are influenced more by nonverbal cues and opposed what they were really feeling. The act of being emotionally contagious is universal and automatic.

Because certain people and moods can be more contagious or susceptible to emotional contagion, research has also found that the energy in those moods influences can be more powerful than the actual emotion displayed. Emotional Contagion can ultimately affect our moods and the moods of others.

Importance of Emotional Contagion

Types of Emotional Contagion

We can better understand emotional contagion and how it affects our mood by learning about the two types that exist, implicit and explicit.

Implicit acts of emotional contagion

They are said to be automatic and less conscious. This includes non-verbal cues and through media communication. Texting and social media platforms are the best examples of implicit emotional contagion. A study done through Facebook users showed that the use of specific advertisements and posts by Facebook friends indirectly influence emotion and mood.

The process of afferent feedback is how we receive and translate information to provide appropriate responses to others in any specific situation, particularly with implicit acts of emotional contagion. Implicit acts require more attention ultimately because we are expending energy to process each situation, and reading others’ emotions is not always an easy task. But by doing this, we do a social comparison of our emotions with others to see if they are appropriate for the situation or not.

In fact, the science of emotional contagion shows that negative emotions are perceived stronger and quicker than positive emotions. In addition, higher energy in implicit emotional acts create stronger and quicker responses than lower energy implicit emotional acts. The more negative the emotions are and the higher the energy, the stronger our reactions may be. This is what results in our changes in mood and the feeling of being emotionally “contagious.”

Explicit acts of emotional contagion

They are used when one intend to achieve something with a purpose through manipulation. Relationships and the workplace are perfect examples where explicit acts of Emotional Contagion are perceptive enough to be effective. Affective influences, like enthusiasm by a colleague or a boss, are how ones’ influence can produce wanted results like better work ethic and goal achievement. Explicit acts of Emotional Contagion refers to the emotional labor that is most appropriate for the case and consequently may feel obligated to express, especially in work environments. Drama and acting skills are said to be a form of explicit Emotional Contagion because it is intentional and acts as a representation of internal thoughts and feelings, otherwise known as “affective impression management.”

A Two-Step Process proposed by Dr. Elaine Hatfield states that we first, imitate the people we are surrounded by and second, that there is a change in mood through “faking” the emotion

Emotional Contagion’s Physiology

Mirror Neurons are the physiological and biological reason behind emotional contagion. Here we have all the information on mirror neurons for a more in depth look at how we use them. In humans, the premotor cortex and the parietal area of the brain, hippocampus and limbic system are responsible for the execution and perceiving of emotions. The mirror neurons are fired when goal related actions are seen or performed by others. Research says that emotional contagion triggers a similar neurological activation as a process of directing experiential understanding. The mirror neurons and neural activation act as a functional mechanism to synchronize what is experienced and what is perceived.

Mimicry and facial feedback are the results of emotional contagion. Mimicry is said to be a foundation in the process of emotional contagion. Synchronization and facial motor representation are the result of the process of afferent feedback and mirror neuron firing. The amygdala is responsible for empathy and emotional response and allows us to experience and express emotion. The brain stem and basal areas, located near the amygdala, recreate the physiological state and in turn allow emotion to affect emotional expression.         

Here is a short, informational video that overviews emotional contagion!

Tips to Keep Emotional Contagion at Bay!

Now we know that it can affect our mood and affect the moods of others, even without realizing it. Here we have some tips if you think yours or others’ moods seem to “infect” the way you behave!

Be Present

When you’re in a situation and you feel any sort of emotional peer pressure, take a moment to think, “Is this how I truly feel or is this how I think I should feel?” By simply giving yourself the option that your feelings may not match your thoughts, you can come to understand which feelings are true to you or only true to who you’re with.

Fake it ’till you make it!

Everyone has bad days—but if your mood or someone else’s mood “contaminating” others, smiling and laughing are simple exercises. The muscle recognition of smiling triggers your facial memory and mirror neurons into believing you are happy, and before you know it, your appearance of happiness may be contagious for others also!

Seek Professional Guidance

If you find that your more aware or sensitive to the moods of others, you can always evaluate those relationships and those triggers. Talking with a trained professional can help you in thought pattern recognition and guide you into healthy coping skills and ward off Emotional Contagion.

Hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a comment below!

Korsakoff Syndrome: inventing memories to compensate forgetfulness

Korsakoff syndrome is a memory problem that is usually due to alcohol abuse or overly restrictive diets that lead to vitamin deficiency. Find out here what it consists of, what are its main symptoms, causes, treatment and how we prevent it.

Korsakoff Syndrome

What is the Korsakoff Syndrome?

Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder due to severe deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1.

Thiamin helps the brain produce energy from sugar. When levels fall drastically brain cells can’t generate enough energy to function properly and as a result, Korsakoff syndrome can develop.

It is believed that this deficiency causes damage to the thalamus and mammillary bodies of the hypothalamus. Mammillary bodies are brain parts or small structures with many connections to the hippocampus (an area closely related to memory). There is also general brain atrophy, loss, and neuronal damage.

Research has shown that this deficiency alters the substances responsible for transmitting signals between brain cells and storing memories. These alterations can destroy neurons and cause bleeding and microscopic scars throughout the brain tissue.

This syndrome is often, but not always, preceded by an episode of Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This consists of an acute reaction of the brain due to a severe lack of thiamine. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a medical emergency that causes severe life-threatening brain disturbance, mental confusion, uncoordinated movement and abnormal and involuntary eye movements. Because Korsakoff syndrome is commonly preceded by an episode of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, the chronic disorder is sometimes called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. However, Korsakoff can develop without a previous episode of this encephalopathy.

Korsakoff Syndrome Symptoms

Korsakoff is characterized by memory problems but retaining consciousness. This may give the impression during conversations that he is in full possession of his faculties.

However, he has severe alterations in recent memory. The person will ask the same questions over and over again, read the same page for hours, and is not able to recognize the people they have seen several times in the course of his illness.

Memory problems can be very severe, both short-term memory and long-term memory with many memory gaps or memory loss, while other skills such as social or thoughts may be relatively intact.

The main symptoms are:

  • Anterograde amnesia: inability to form new memories or learn new information.
  • Retrograde amnesia: severe loss of existing memories, prior to the beginning of the disease.
  • Confabulations: invented memories that are believed by the individual himself as real because of memory gaps.
  • Conversation with low content.
  • Lack of introspection.
  • Apathy.

Individuals with Korsakoff syndrome may show different symptoms. In some cases, a patient may continue to “live in the past”, convinced that his life and the world remain unchanged since the beginning of the disorder.

Others may display a wide variety of confabulations. Retrograde amnesia does not happen to all memories alike but affects more in recent events. The older the memories, the more they remain intact. This may be because recent memories are not fully consolidated in our brains, therefore, being more vulnerable to their loss.

Confabulations in Korsakoff Syndrome

One of the most characteristic symptoms of people with Korsakoff syndrome is the confabulations. They often “collude” or invent information they can’t remember. It is not that they are “lying”, but actually believe their invented explanations. There is still no agreed scientific explanation as to why this happens.

Korsakoff Syndrome-Confabulations

Some people may show constant, even frenetic, conspiracies. They continually invent new identities, with detailed and convincing stories that support them, to replace the reality they have forgotten.

Causes of Korsakoff Syndrome

We know that excessive intake of alcohol can harm our nervous system. In fact, in most cases, Korsakoff’s syndrome is due to alcohol abuse and its consequences on our brain.

Research has identified some genetic variations that may increase the risk of this disorder. In addition, poor nutrition can also be an important factor.

Korsakoff syndrome can also be caused by eating disorders, such as anorexia, overly restrictive diets, starvation, or sudden weight loss after surgery. Also by uncontrolled vomiting, HIV virus, chronic infection or cancer that has spread throughout the body.

Treatment of Korsakoff Syndrome

Intervention for Korsakoff syndrome should be approached from a multidisciplinary point of view, in which doctors, psychologists, and neuropsychologists will work to achieve the best results.

Some experts recommend that people who consume large amounts of alcohol or have other risks of thiamine deficiency, take oral supplements, always under the supervision of a doctor.

It is also recommended that anyone who has had a history of alcohol abuse or symptoms associated with Wernicke’s encephalopathy be injected with thiamine. For people who develop Korsakoff Syndrome, treatment with oral thiamine, other vitamins and magnesium may increase the chances of symptoms improving.

A psychological intervention will revolve around maintaining alcohol abstinence. From the neuropsychological point of view, it will help to compensate for their deficits, so that the patient can integrate socially and lead a life as normal as possible. CogniFit is a tool that trains different cognitive skills affected by Korsakoff Syndrome. 

Prognosis of Korsakoff syndrome

Some data suggest that about 25 percent of people with Korsakoff syndrome recover, half improve but don’t fully recover, and another 25 percent remain the same.

According to these researchers, the mortality rate is high, between 10 and 20%. This is mainly due to lung infection, septicemia, liver decompensation disorder and an irreversible thiamine deficiency state.

Early attention and treatment for Korsakoff symptoms is very important. Early treatment of Wernicke’s encephalopathies may improve prognosis and prevent Korsakoff’s syndrome. For example, eye problems begin to improve in hours or days, motor problems, in days or weeks. Although some 60% of patients may have some residual symptoms.

According to these authors, once the Korsakoff syndrome has been established, the prognosis is quite pessimistic. Approximately 80% of patients are left with a chronic memory disorder. These can get to learn simple and repetitive tasks that involve procedural memory (motor memory).

Cognitive recovery is slow and incomplete and reaches its highest level of recovery after one year of treatment. Although recovery may occur, it depends on factors such as age or alcohol withdrawal.

Tips for Preventing Korsakoff Syndrome

Tips for Preventing Korsakoff Syndrome

The primary advice is to reduce your alcohol intake to a minimum. The less alcohol, the better. Although we think that drink very little, the fact is that even in small amounts, we are already damaging our body.

  • A healthy and non-restrictive diet will ensure the synthesis of the vitamins needed to function properly and in particular thiamine or B1.
  • Go to the doctor whenever we detect memory problems. He will establish if it is a problem associated with normal aging or some kind of dementia.
  • Maintain a good support system, since loved ones will be of help in case any disturbing symptoms appear.
  • If you think you drink more than you do and don’t know how to quit, go to a professional who will help you reduce your alcohol intake.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

What is MSG: Everything you need to know about this flavor enhancer

What is MSG and what is it used for? What is the relationship between MSG and the fifth flavor or umami? Should we avoid this flavor enhancer? In this article we explain everything about monosodium glutamate: With what other names this food additive is known, what foods contain it, its relationship with obesity, the Chinese restaurant syndrome, and we give you some advice.

What is MSG

You may have heard the word glutamate somewhere, but do not know very well what it is, or what it means. Sometimes we even get information of how bad it is but have no idea why. For example, we hear about the effects of foods with glutamate in our body. In this article, we will develop what you need to know about this amino acid.

What is MSG or monosodium glutamate? This substance, also known as MSG or sodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid (one of the most abundant essential amino acids in nature). MSG is a food additive, which provides the same “umami” flavor that we can find naturally in some foods. Chemically, they are the same. The food industry uses and commercializes monosodium glutamate as a food additive or “seasoning” to enhance the flavor of some foods.

MSG, by itself, does not have a pleasant taste. It is necessary to complement this substance with other foods so that it can enhance, harmonize, and balance the flavor of certain dishes, making them more appetizing.

What is MSG in foods? Monosodium glutamate combines very well with different foods: Meats, fish, vegetables, soups, sauces and contributes for these to have a more pleasant taste.

This additive has been considered non-toxic and safe if consumed in normal quantities. However, there seems to be a group of people who manifest symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea or diarrhea, when they consume foods prepared with MSG.

What is MSG and its relationship with “umami” or fifth flavor?

We all know the basic flavors of taste (sweet, bitter, salty and acidic). Well, in addition to these, we have to include the umami, the taste of monosodium glutamate. For many it may sound like something new or strange, however, it was identified as a flavor by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908.

This scientist investigated algae rich in umami and managed to isolate one of the components of these algae, MSG or Monosodium Glutamate.

“Umami” in Japanese, means “delicious” or “deep flavor” because, after eating it, the flavor remains in your mouth. In fact, it has such a pleasant taste that it encourages to continue eating more of that product.

  • We can learn to identify MSG taste by concentrating on the center of our tongue. The biologist Charles Zuker, determined in 2001 that the largest number of taste receptors specific for this taste are there, in the center of the tongue.

Surely, you have eaten foods that had this characteristic flavor, but since we do not have this word in our vocabulary, we simply describe it with either a “mmmm” or  “wow this is so tasty!” You may even have tried some pre-cooked food or bag snacks and commented, “I don’t know why but I can not stop eating it!”.

Even if you stop to think about it, there are various commercials, which indirectly allude to the properties of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). They bet that “you won’t resist just eating one” or they warn you, suggestively, that “once you pop open the bag, you won’t be able to stop”.

What is MSG and what other names does it have?

Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer that appears on food labels in different ways. This amino acid receives different names, such as:

  • E-621
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Self-leavening yeast
  • Hydrolyzed casein
  • Hydrolyzed corn
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
  • Proteins
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Citric acid
  • Partially hydrolyzed whey
  • Hydrolyzed milk protein

What is MSG and what food contains it?

There are many other foods that contain monosodium glutamate added to generate this flavor and increase its consumption. We could consider it a sort of “trick” of the food industry to raise its income, increasing the demand for these “succulent snacks”:

  • Appetizers, fried foods, snacks
  • Cold meats and sausages
  • Pâtes
  • Olives, pickles, pickles …
  • Pre-cooked food
  • Instant soup
  • Frozen food
  • Prepared sauces and soy sauce
  • Junk Food (frozen pizzas, kebabs, hamburgers …)

What is MSG ?- MSG effects?  Relationship between MSG and obesity

Should you avoid MSG? After reading this article, the next time you go to the supermarket you will start reading the labels and you will find that MSG is everywhere in its E621 form.

Glutamate can affect us negatively when we exceed a certain intake. However, this is like with everything. If you exceed in eating fruit it can be negative for your health as well. Nothing is good in excess, therefore it is advisable to limit consumption.

Try not to get too caught up on this. It’s true that there is a relationship between MSG and overweight, but it doesn’t mean that monosodium glutamate is directly fattening. MSG’s relationship with obesity is as follows:

Consume high processed foods like snacks, junk food, pre-cooked food, etc:

  • One of the main characteristics of this type of food is that it is loaded with sugars and trans fats, which in turn make us feel not satisfied nor full. Apart from these additions, we might guess that MSG is also added to the mix, to make it more flavorful and increase our intake of the product. Thus, Monosodium Glutamate contributes indirectly to weight gain, but it isn’t alone. What really fattens us is the consumption of hypercaloric foods, especially if it is part of our regular diet.
  • Lack of self-control: There are people who are more controlled at mealtimes than others. As much as a food carries MSG and your brain asks you for more, we are owners of our actions. Therefore, it is up to us, and only us, to decide to eat only a portion or less. This is highly related to impulsive behaviors and the immediate gratification of a desire or need.

What is MSG and its relationship with Chinese food?- Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

What is MSG- Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

You may have heard about how Chinese food or products used can be detrimental to your health. Some things you have heard will be rumors or speculations. However, there is something that is real.

These restaurants have become common to produce certain symptoms that have been labeled part of the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.

Something I want to clarify before is that these symptoms are a consequence of free-form amino acids.

  • Origin: It was first described by Dr. Kwok
  • Beginning: Appearance around 15-20 minutes of starting a meal prepared with MSG.
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Symptoms:
    • Cervical hardening with pain radiating to both arms and back.
    • General weakness
    • Palpitations
    • Headache
    • Sickness

Dr. Taliaferro undertook an analysis of the situation in the Journal of Environmental Health, stating: “All competent international agencies agree that the normal and controlled use of Monosodium Glutamate does not pose a health hazard”.

The Committee of Experts on Food Additives of the World Health Organization,  Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Community, and the American Medical Association have expressed this on different occasions. Even the demanding US FDA has classified Glutamate as generally recognized as safe or GRAS substance in the same group as salt, pepper or sugar.

“There is no scientific evidence establishing that glutamate causes, in particular, severe adverse reactions or that  reactions from low concentrations pose a threat “- US FDA

What does this all say? There are people who are more vulnerable or sensitive to MSG. The best thing is to do is to control consumption and not eat large quantities of food containing this product.

What is MSG-Recommendations

Health seems to be the key to the survival human beings. We aim for stability, good habits, superb cognitive skills, physical and brain training routines and a balanced diet. With MSG it’s the same, to be healthy just try to consume it with moderation and always within a balanced diet.
On the other hand, knowledge is power and, with food, it is very important to know what you are eating. We have already seen what other names MSG has on labels, therefore, it is your decision if you want to ingest it or not.

Anyway, these are our conclusions. You can contribute more information if you like. What do you think? Have you suffered any of the Chinese restaurant syndrome symptoms? Have you ever heard of Monosodium Glutamate? Do you know any myths or truths about this amino acid? Just remember are what we eat.

As always, I invite you to comment below!

This article is originally in Spanish written by Patricia Sanchez Seisdedos, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Self-control: Learn what it is and how to handle it to succeed

Do you feel that your lack of self-control prevents you from achieving your goals? Do you feel that you can’t handle your anxiety or anger? Do you have problems controlling your emotions, thoughts, or impulses? Would you like to improve your self-control or that of someone you love? If your answer is yes, this article on what is self-control, techniques to improve self-control might interest you.

Self-control

What is self-control?

Self-control is the ability that allows us to control our emotions, our impulsive behavior, and impulses,  allowing us to reach our goals and objectives. Self-control is necessary to successfully perform most of the facets of our life, such as studying, working, educating, maintaining our relationships.

We could say that self-control is like a thermostat whose function is to maintain our balance and stability, both internally and externally. When it works properly, it helps us control the impulses and desires that keep us from our goals. For example, if you want to pass an exam, you need to stay at home studying. For this, you must control the impulse to go out and see your friends. Another example would be to tell your boss everything he does wrong and how he causes you job stress but in order to keep your job, you need self-control.

The importance of self-control

It has been proven that people with high self-control are often the most successful people in life. Researchers found that people with greater self-control may have brains that function more efficiently. This suggested that those with self-control may have extra willpower because it takes them less effort to exert it.This is due to the influence emotions have on the decision-making process and how they also guide our behaviors, impulses and our lives.

The problem is that when we want something, we need to get it right away. When we don’t get it, we stress and experience negative emotions, making it difficult for us to handle our emotions or control our anger.

Self-control, therefore, is a complex cognitive process that requires the presence of other previous skills in order to develop. More specifically, before we can develop our self-control, we need to: Learn to identify our emotions, to understand them, and then to be able to control and regulate them, and with that, regulate our behavior. This gives you control to own your decisions, behaviors, and impulses, by this you will be able to decide how, where and when to channel them. In addition, we must learn to cope with other interfering aspects such as stress created by negative emotions and thoughts, which makes it much more complicated.

Difference between repression and self-control

It is important to keep in mind that self-control and repression are not the same, and are commonly confused. Self-control requires awareness of the emotions, understanding them and acting accordingly to manage and control them. On the other hand, when we talk about repression, we are referring to hiding the emotions, to eliminating them, not paying attention to them, and waiting for them to disappear as if by magic, which won’t happen.

Here is an example for you to better understand what we mean: “You are feeling angry and you think that you would hit anything that was within your reach, but you can’t do it at that moment and you must control yourself”. For this, you can follow two paths:

  • Self-control strategy: To become aware of what you are feeling, accept it, and try to create an opposite emotion through strategies such as the evocation of quiet memories, or distracting yourself with anything that reduces the intensity of the emotion. This helps reduce your impulses and increase your self-control.
  • Repression strategy: Tighten your fists, without being aware of what is happening to you, and think constantly about hitting something until it would be destroyed.

The difference between the two terms is evident, just as the effects each generate. For this reason, in this article, we not only want to teach you not to let yourself be driven by your impulses but also to manage them properly.
If an emotion, such as anger, becomes trapped inside us, without being able to understand and regulate it, that anger and fury will take over our thoughts and behaviors. It will make us irritable making it very difficult to reach our goals. Instead, if we can control the anger we feel at a given moment, our mood will change, making it easier for us to achieve our goals.
Here are the key steps that will help you improve your self-control. This is not a simple task, which is learned in a day but requires patience, effort, dedication and time to develop.

Self Control: Identifying your emotions

As we have been saying throughout the article, the key to handling our impulses lies in the control, understanding, and management of our emotions and thoughts.

The problem is that on many occasions we are not aware of the repercussions that this can have when managing or controlling our impulses. We run the risk that our emotions and thoughts take control of our behavior, moving us further away from our goals. Let’s not forget that our emotions are also related to the quality of the decisions we make each day.

For this reason, it is important that we learn to identify our emotions and become aware of them. If we succeed, we will have taken the first great step towards our self-control. We can say that there are two types of emotions: Primary emotions and secondary emotions.

  • The primary emotions are universal (joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise), and most people are able to identify them without much trouble. We know their physical manifestations perfectly and what they mean when we feel them. For example, when we are happy our body seeks positive experiences, and when we are sad, our body disconnects.
  • Secondary emotions are more difficult to identify, as they are a result of several primary emotions, and their manifestations are not as obvious and clear.For this reason, it is necessary that you identify all your emotions and know what effect they have on our thoughts, behaviors and physical manifestations.

For this reason, it is necessary that you identify all your emotions and know what effect they have on our thoughts, behaviors and physical manifestations.

Once you have learned this, you will be able to understand what happens to you every moment and act accordingly. You will be able to have self-control, reduce intense emotions and handle and regulate the “negative physical waste” that certain emotions leave behind, such as anxiety. For example, anxiety arises from the combination of fear and guilt or shame. If we experience anxiety, we will be able to identify those thoughts that cause fear, guilt or shame, and we can work to change them. Thus, instead of not being able to control it, abandoning the first attempt and doing something that we don’t want, we can reduce the emotion, and successfully overcome the situation.

Self-control

Self Control: Learn to control your emotions

As we have been saying throughout the article, emotions play a strong role in self-control. If we can manage them, we will be able to control them, and therefore, we will be able to increase our self-control. Here are some tips to improve your self-control:

Identify and define the emotions you are feeling.

To do this, you can use a technique that I call “personal emotion book“. When you are in a situation that makes you feel an emotion that you find difficult to control, fill out the following questions in a small notepad:

  • What is the name of the emotion that I just felt?
  • What is the name of the emotion that I just felt?
  • What physical manifestations does it produce?
  • What thoughts did I have?
  • How have I dealt with the situation?

Writing this down will help you internalize it. In addition, you will have the possibility to consult it when you consider necessary.
On the other hand, it can also help you document all the different emotions that you experienced and how they manifest. Therefore, later you can compare with other emotions that are harder to identify.

Comprehend the emotions that you are feeling

To do this, you can use a technique that I call “Unravel the Enigma“. This should always be done when the “Personal Emotion Book” technique has been done previously.

In your notebook you will:

  • Make a list that includes the different circumstances that might have caused an emotion, and try to identify the one that triggered the emotional reaction.
  • Try to think what purpose did the emotion have and why did it appear.
    Think thoroughly about the whole experience and try to comprehend and accept it.

Regulate your emotions

This is the last step to achieving self-control. The task is to find other activities or ways to reduce emotional states and symptoms. It is about finding what you do well to regulate your emotions and your behaviors. Some tricks to regulate intense emotional states are

  1. If you find it difficult to create thoughts and emotions that compensate for the pain caused by an impulse that can’t be satisfied, one of the main tricks is to distance yourself from the situation. Try to distract yourself from it and it will be easier for you to reduce the stress it generates. For example, you can go out for a walk, or leave the place for a few minutes, until you feel ready to face it.
  2. Test yourself. Each experience is a good opportunity to learn to improve your self-control. Try to be aware of what happens inside you and around you in the different situations of your life. Pay attention to the different results you get by acting differently in several situations. You can similar chart to the one below and fill it for each situation.Make small records that reflect the situation that caused the emotion, what you thought and how you acted. This will help you identify those dysfunctional responses, and create new alternatives.
  3. Finally, it is very important to be patient, and that you understand that this is not an easy task, so you should not be frustrated while trying.
Self-control chart

If you follow these steps you will become closer to achieving self-control. This will help you develop a more balanced and happy life because remember that your happiness depends on the way you interpret and face reality, and that is something that is only in your hands.

Finally, I leave you with a video about self-control and long-term and short-term goals that could be very useful.

I hope you find this article useful. Feel free to leave a comment below!