Posts from the ‘neuroscience’ category

The Neuroscience Of “Harry Potter” or, What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Lost in a Book

Harry_Potter_Books

Let’s do a casual experiment. Here’s a brief passage from the first book in some obscure fiction series called Harry Potter:

A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered. … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy, and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.

And here’s another passage from the final book of the series:

He got up off the floor, stretched and moved across to his desk. Hedwig made no movement as he began to flick through the newspapers, throwing them on to the rubbish pile one by one; the owl was asleep, or else faking; she was angry with Harry about the limited amount of time she was allowed out of her cage at the moment.

Which passage did you find more engaging? Chances are it was the first. While the second passage might advance the plot, the first passage has drama, tension, and irresistible vampire-like behavior stuffed into a matter of four lines. It’s the type of action that helps readers get lost in a book. And it’s precisely this ability to immerse readers that helps sell hundreds of millions of copies.

Continue reading…

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How to heal our smartphone-addled, overworked brains

The biggest casualty of everyone being so connected is productivity. No one is getting much done at the office. A few ways you can maintain a healthy brain at work.

FORTUNE — When cars first became popular 100 years ago, there were no road rules or speed limits to begin with. Inspired by the freedom of their speedy new toys, drivers zoomed around as fast as they could. Crashes were a constant.

Today’s speedy new toys, the smartphone and tablet, help people work when, where, and how they want. Excited by their newfound freedom, people are staying connected 24/7, working as fast as they can. The crashes this time are less obvious but still producing pain.

A creative team that used to debrief with their client by video once a week from the office is now on video daily from their tablets. A software project that took six people a few months to complete is now broken into hundreds of parts for micro developers to finish in a week. While these ideas may sound enticing, there are implications to moving this fast, as HP HPQ -0.87% discovered with tablets and Apple aapl 0.10% with maps. Continue reading…

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How Stories Change the Brain

Great article about storytelling via the Greater Good Science Center at Berkley.

By Paul J. Zak | December 17, 2013

Ben’s dying.

That’s what Ben’s father says to the camera as we see Ben play in the background. Ben is two years old and doesn’t know that a brain tumor will take his life in a matter of months.

Ben’s father tells us how difficult it is to be joyful around Ben because the father knows what is coming. But in the end he resolves to find the strength to be genuinely happy for Ben’s sake, right up to Ben’s last breath.

Everyone can relate to this story. An innocent treated unfairly, and a protector who seeks to right the wrong—but can only do so by finding the courage to change himself and become a better person.

recent analysis identifies this “hero’s journey” story as the foundation for more than half of the movies that come out of Hollywood, and countless books of fiction and nonfiction. And, if you take a look, this structure is in the majority of the most-watched TED talks.

Why are we so attracted to stories? My lab has spent the last several years seeking to understand why stories can move us to tears, change our attitudes, opinions and behaviors, and even inspire us—and how stories change our brains, often for the better. Here’s what we’ve learned. Continue reading…

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6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Fight Stress

A prolonged exposure to high stress levels can damage the brain and hamper good cognitive functioning. As part of a brain-healthy lifestyle, it’s essential to manage stress efficiently and effectively. What can you do when you realize that you are stressed? More importantly, what can you do to build resilience so you can go through difficult situations without feeling too much stress?

Here are six research-based lifestyle solutions that can be used to fight stress and build resilience: Continue reading…

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Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

Scientists have known for some time that the human brain’s ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed by the constant noise and hectic, jangling demands of city living, sometimes resulting in a condition informally known as brain fatigue.

With brain fatigue, you are easily distracted, forgetful and mentally flighty — or, in other words, me.

But an innovative new study from Scotland suggests that you can ease brain fatigue simply by strolling through a leafy park. Continue reading…

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Corridors of the Mind

ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN talking for years about “biophilic” design, “evidence based” design, design informed by the work of psychologists. But last May, at the profession’s annual convention, John Zeisel and fellow panelists were trying to explain neuroscience to a packed ballroom.

The late-afternoon session pushed well past the end of the day; questions just kept coming. It was a scene, Zeisel marveled—all this interest in neuroscience—that would not have taken place just a few years earlier.

Zeisel is a sociologist and architect who has researched the design of facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. Architects, he explains, “understand about aesthetics; they know about psychology. The next depth to which they can go is understanding the brain and how it works and why do people feel more comfortable in one space than another?” Continue reading…

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Why Movies Like Oscar-Winning ‘Undefeated’ Make Grown Men (and Women) Cry

The newly minted Oscar winner for best documentary, Undefeated, has left many critics gushing—with praise, but also tears. The true-life sports tale follows a struggling high school football team in a poor area of Memphis, Tennessee, whose fortunes begin to turn under the guidance of a devoted and determined coach. The emotional story has reduced folks at ForbesEsquire, and other media outlets to sniffles and sobs. It made us wonder: What actually causes people to cry at movies? Continue reading…

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How meditation can reshape our brains (and revisiting neuroplasticity)

I learned some of this at MARC (at UCLA) and found it fascinating.

Neuroplasticity is visited in this video. I often post about neuroplasticity and how that concept allows us to understand that we can heal and change our health and wellbeing by changing our brains.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Found on beyondmeds.com

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Brain Scans Predict Subjective Beauty

When we find something aesthetically pleasing, the sensory areas of the brain light up, and the more beautiful we find, say, a piece of art,  the greater the brain activity in certain regions, a new study shows.

By further investigating the connection between humans’ subjective preferences and brain activity, scientists will someday be able to pinpoint various characteristics that make a painting, musical number or other sensory experience beautiful, researchers said.

“For the first time, we can ask questions about subjective preferences and relate them to activity in the brain,” lead researcher Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. “There are some people who would prefer [beauty] to remain a mystery, but that’s not how scientists view things.”

In a previous study, Zeki found that an area in the pleasure and reward center of the brain is more active when people view a painting or hear a piece of music that they think is beautiful, compared with art they didn’t find particularly pleasing. Because the brain activity of study participants rose accordingly with their ratings of beauty, the results suggest that scientists can look at the brain to objectively measure an experience that seems wholly subjective.

“So the question that we askedis: Do beautiful objects have any specific characteristics that render them beautiful?” Zeki said.

Measuring beauty in the brain

If you look at a painting, video or some other piece of visual art, there are many “domains” that could contribute to the perception of its aesthetics, such as color, shape and motion. For the new study, Zeki and his colleague, Jonathan Stutters, zeroed in on motion, which is the simplest visual attribute, Zeki said.

The researchers used a computer program to generate sets of white dots moving on a black background. The eight patterns all had the same number of dots and changes in speed, but differed in the way the particles moved: Some of the patterns involved dots that moved uniformly on a grid, while others had groups of dots that moved in a seemingly random way.

They then had 16 adults view the patterns twice — once while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, and once before going into the machine. With each viewing, the participants had to rate how much they likedeach visual stimulus.

“It turns out that there are certain patterns that are almost universally liked,” Zeki said, referring to those preferred by 14 out of the 16 participants.The researchers also found that a certain sensory brain area called V5, which is thought to play a major role in motion perception, activated more strongly when the participants viewed patterns they preferred the most.

By analyzing the participants’ preferences and the fMRI data, the researchers were able to pick out certain characteristics — such as the separation between dots — that made some patterns more preferable than others.

In a follow-up experiment, which was not detailed in their study published online today (Feb. 21) in the journal Open Biology, Zeki and Stutters created other patterns that utilized the characteristics they found. Participants overwhelmingly preferred these new patterns to the old ones.

Tip of the iceberg

“It’s nice to see that people are breaking down the aesthetic experience to basic processes,” said Marcos Nadal Roberts, a psychologist at theUniversity of the Balearic Islands in Spain, who was not involved with the study.”If we don’t break it down to smaller pieces, it will be very hard to understand the bigger picture.”

But, Roberts notes, the research is not saying that beauty can be reduced to a merely objective experience, because the participants in the study had slightly different likes and dislikes. For example, one of the participants in the study didn’t strongly prefer any of the patterns, while another participant preferred a pattern that no one else did.

“Beauty is not just about an object and all its features, it’s also about the person and all of his or her features,” Roberts told LiveScience. “So it’s subjective and objective, both happening at the same time.”

Roberts said that the study could have been more relatable to the real world if the researchers had used more natural forms of motion, such as the movement of waves in the ocean, the flocking of birds or the rustle of leaves in a tree as the wind blows.

The abstract motion of dots isn’t something that people would typically say is “beautiful,” Zeki concedes.

Zeki is now looking to tease out preferred characteristics in the other domains, and eventually combine them to get a better picture of the objective qualities of visual beauty. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Actually, it’s not even the tip, it’s just a few micrometers of the tip.”

Via livescience.com

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Learn To Listen To What Your Body Is Saying

I enjoy reading articles that recommend I get a massage…

Our bodies hold all of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore their messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Because most of us are taught from an early age to focus on external demands, we frequently ignore what our bodies are saying.

More often than not we treat the physical symptoms rather than looking for the internal cause of pain, depression, and weight gain. We take another extra-strength aspirin, rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than listening to our body’s message about needing rest. A look at our pets may be all we need to see the value of naps.

Our bodies communicate thousands of little messages to us every day. For instance, is your mouth pinched and tight? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Do you feel a knot in your stomach as you promise to do something? Your body is telling you that you are tense, stressed, and over-extended.

As a society, we notoriously put deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. Your body is a sophisticated, intelligent machine, but too often we fail to understand them because we don’t value them as highly as we should.

So, what do you do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?

Start with the breath

Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Allow your thoughts to come and go in the background while breathing in and out. As you inhale and exhale, think the words “In. Out. In. Out.”  Lovingly make a note to yourself how and where you are failing to breathe. Many of us breathe only in our chests when we should be allowing the breath to expand down into our abdomens. Perhaps you are denying life by taking in shallow breaths, and your body is asking you to stop and breathe more deeply. Practice this daily for five minutes to start, and soon it will be easy for you.

Allow yourself quiet time

Sit for ten minutes each day, or even five if that is more manageable. This will give you a chance to listen to your body. Begin by sitting while breathing and become the conscious observer of your thoughts. This would be a great practice, especially in the middle of a busy day. This time can also involve taking a walk or a nap or soaking in a hot tub.

Get a massage

This is not an extravagant indulgence; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in. Massage is proven
to alleviate stress and help circulation and muscle recovery.

Use your journal to dialogue with your body

Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist, or stiff lower back, a voice and let it tell you what its message is.

Eat when hungry, sleep when tired

Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, ask for help changing them.

Do a body inventory to relax

Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside, tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension. Tense your feet first, then your calves, and so forth, until you reach your face. Relax your entire body.

If your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path—why resist? It knows what it needs.

If you want to truly be happy and healthy—begin listening to your body. Body awareness is part of a healthy lifestyle, just as much as eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Its impulses hold the key to your well-being.

Via Positively Positive

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Fear Helps You Appreciate Abstract Art, Study Finds

Article by Amy Lee @ the Huffington Post

 

The next time you’re having trouble appreciating Jackson Pollock, try seeing a horror movie first.

According to a new study, feeling fear may actually help people to better engage with abstract art.

In the study, which used 85 Brooklyn College students as a sample, participants were assigned randomly to one of five conditions: fear, happiness, high physiological arousal, low physiological arousal or a control group.

Fear was induced with a video of a screaming, zombie-like face, happiness with a clip of a baby and dog interacting, and high and low physiological arousal by having participants complete 30 or 15 jumping jacks, respectively. Participants were then shown four paintings by abstract artist El Lissitzky.

When results were tabulated, fear was the only factor shown to significantly increase the strength of viewers’ reactions to the art. “Art’s allure may… be a byproduct of one’s tendency to be alarmed by such environmental features as novelty, ambiguity, and the fantastic,” the study concluded.

“I wanted to focus on how our body literally shapes the way we think. The body is not just a vessel for the mind, it is the mind, it’s all the same stuff,” said Kendall Eskine, the study’s lead author, in an interview with The Huffington Post

Eskine, a research psychologist at Loyola New Orleans, is interested in the field known as embodied cognition, which explores the ways that physical states can influence the way that people think. Eskine is particular interested in how people process abstract concepts like beauty, truth, or morality.

One study in this field showed that participants holding a hot cup of coffee had more positive first impressions upon meeting a stranger than those holding a cold cup of coffee. Another study, run by Eskine, highlighted the connection between eating bitter food and increased feelings of moral disgust.

In the case of abstract art, Eskine explained, fear might stimulate viewers to the painting in front of them, in part because of the emotion’s evolutionary basis.

“When you’re in a fear state, it promotes fight or flight,” he said. “When you’re scared, [you focus on] the object that is involved in your fear state in a very special way. You couple the physical, visceral experience of fear with this object that has taken over your mental world — a way of describing the sublime.”

Eskine’s definition of the sublime is taken from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, who believed that a truly great work of art should inspire both fear and pleasure. Though 18th century philosophy might seem out of place in a contemporary psych study, taking old philosophical ideas and testing them with empirical evidence is one of Eskine’s passions.

“People for centuries have had provocative and interesting ideas and it doesn’t hurt to see if they work,” he said. “It’s a great way to disseminate information to people who aren’t scientifically trained.”

Eskine plans to continue researching different aspects of aesthetic experience, including dance, film, music, and more. In one recent project, which has not yet been published, Eskine had participants sit on the edges of their seat. Afterwards, they expressed “more excitement/anxiousness,” according to Eskine.

Eskine also pointed out that the results of his study could even be applied in reverse.

“Whenever you’re asking people to look at art, if they’re trying to get a sense of whether they like it, they could consider how it physically makes them feel and use that information as a cue to understand what it meant,” he said.


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