Tag Archives: Areas Of The Brain

Who Needs A Psychiatrist When You’ve Got An iPhone?

Okay, sure the headline might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s a (somewhat) serious question.

Here’s why.

Despite how amazingly complex is our brain function, it can be easily fooled and made to go along with the plans of others. For instance, if you smile at someone, odds are that that person will smile back. If you smile, you will feel better.

It should be the other way around. That is, if you feel good, you smile. And that’s true. You do. But it seems as if the mere physical act of twitching a few facial muscles is enough to fool the brain into thinking that, “If I’m smiling, I must be happy so I’d better start the happy time now.”

Which is the thinking behind MoodTune. According to the developer, Harvard psychiatrist Diego Pizzagalli, if you turn on MoodTune for about 15 minutes a day, play some games in the app, it’s possible you can lift yourself out of depression. It’s possible, Pizzagalli said, this app could be all the treatment a depressed person needs. No meds. No talk therapy. Just an iPhone app.

Pizzagalli started working on depression in 1999 and released some of his most important papers in 2001. The papers focused on “biomarkers,” signals of response in the brain to antidepressants and psychotherapy. Take a peek inside the brain, and you can see areas light up–or fail to light up–in response to treatments. Whether an area lights up or not predicts, with considerable accuracy, whether a treatment works, he says.

So, the thinking goes, what we if we illuminate those regions another way? The brain could readjust appropriately without the need for a pill. The anterior cingulate cortex is associated with depression and also works when snap decisions need to be made, Pizzagalli says, so perhaps having someone make snap decisions would help treat depression. He developed desktop software in his lab to test it out and was happy enough with the results to delve deeper into the technology.

And there’s the whole thing with the physical act of smiling making us feel happy. The thinking here is that it doesn’t matter what causes these specific areas of the brain to light up. If they light up, you feel less depressed.

I don’t know about you dudes, but I find that idea rather fascinating. It speaks to a sort of hacker mentality, but working in neurons instead of silicon chips. I think it’s sort of like an extension of behaviorist approaches to therapy. Behaviorists don’t care why you do something if the thing is what you want to stop. They just work on stopping the behavior and feel like that will take care of the underlying problem as well. In a nutshell. Generally speaking.

This is some really strange, but very cool stuff, very next-level thinking. My concern, though, arises from an analogy. If you’ve got a car tire that keeps going flat, you go out and get a new tire. Problem solved. You don’t care why it went flat because you’ve got a new tire and all is good. But what if the reason your tire kept going flat was because you kept parking next to a sharp bit of curb and it would scrape against the tire, causing it to gradually lose air. Pretty soon, you’re going to need another new tire because the underlying problem is still there.

Think of that like the brain. You’re seriously depressed. You treat this by tricking your brain into lighting up some key anti-depression areas by playing some games. You feel better. But the root cause still is there, yeah? Won’t the depression come back? Keep coming back?

I guess that’s why they research these things. We keep asking questions and they keep trying to find the answers.

I picked this information up from an interesting article at Popular Science. You might want to go over there and read the whole thing. It’s really absorbing. I know I learned some things, and that’s always good.

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Just Go To Sleep

by Richard

If you’ve got kids who have any kind of attention deficit issues, you probably are already familiar with begging, pleading, offering various souls to any infernal entity if the little dude would just go to sleep and stay there.

If you didn’t know it, the same areas of the brain that help to regulate sleep are also at work attempting to regulate attention. So, little dudes with ADD (either the hyperactive type or the inattentive type) are more than likely to have sleep problems as well.

Sorry, but it’s true.

These sleep issues can manifest in many, many different ways, none of them fun for the parent. Difficulty in getting to sleep. Difficulty in staying asleep. Very early rising. Very late rising. You name it. If it’s something you don’t want to have happen in relation to sleep, it’s a very real possibility for kids with some kind of attention issue. And that’s not good.

Sleep deprivation affects adults the way it affects kids: It makes them irritable (and sometimes depressed), impatient, and less efficient at just about everything they do. Adults who haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep are more likely to miss work. And sleep-deprived parents aren’t very good at managing their children.

So what can we do about it? Well, tempting as it is to knock the kid out with some kind of sleeping pill or other medication, that’s really not a good idea. Not only might the little dudette become dependent on the sleeping pill to get to sleep, but the sedating effect is only active for up to six hours, which means they’ll probably wake in the middle of the night, refreshed and ready to get going.

One way to help you deal with it in smallish dudes is to set a realistic bedtime. If you know your little dude doesn’t go to sleep before 9 pm, but you insist on putting him in bed at 7 pm, then you’re going to be in for a rough two hours as you try to get him to go to sleep, getting increasingly frustrated and angry as the minutes pass, when he just can’t go to sleep yet. Try letting him stay up closer to his natural bedtime, instead of forcing him to adhere to an earlier one that won’t work.

You might also try to keep the bedroom completely dark. Brains tend to interpretate light as meaning that it’s time to be awake. Cut the lights and you cut that clue.

Finally, look into some relaxation techniques you and your little dude can use before bedtime. Mentally go through all the muscles in your and his body, contracting and then relaxing them one by one. Or find your own relaxation technique, that doesn’t involve opening that bottle of scotch you keep stashed in the dishes cabinet.

Like everything else, kids with attention issues require more, just to keep even. It’s a good thing we love them, yeah?

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Your Brain Is Still On Love

by Richard

The love drug is more than just a slang name for the already slangy Spanish Fly. (Dude, does that date me.) Love acts just like any other drug in that it can cause your brain chemistry to change, which, in turn, forces your emotions to change and alters your behavior.

The only difference is that you can’t get love in a pill. Yet.

So, we’re talking about love and all the stuff it can do to you. This conversation got started when I read a nice opinion piece by Diane Ackerman in the New York Times the other day. Some good stuff.

As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected. That’s why being spurned by a lover hurts all over the body, but in no place you can point to. Or rather, you’d need to point to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the brain, the front of a collar wrapped around the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers zinging messages between the hemispheres that register both rejection and physical assault.

Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.

And that’s just social anxiety. Imagine the feeling magnified many-fold when it’s rejection by the person you love. Of course, there’s also the reverse, in that the feeling of joy you experience when you’re loved and in love is something amazing and wonderful. It also can act as a painkiller.

James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, conducted experiments in 2006 in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships. Tests registered their anxiety before, and pain level during, the shocks.

Then they were shocked again, this time holding their loving partner’s hand. The same level of electricity produced a significantly lower neural response throughout the brain. In troubled relationships, this protective effect didn’t occur. If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.

To me, that’s the most amazing thing about love: that a simple emotion can actually make physical changes in our bodies. A feeling can change the mechanism by which the feeling itself is generated. That’s pretty cool stuff, dudes.

You know? Wait. I lied. That isn’t the most amazing thing. The most amazing thing is that I am in loved and am loved.

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