Tag Archives: Facial Muscles

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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Freaky Friday: Smile When You Read That

by Richard

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone. Trite but true. Seriously. It’s scientifically documented. Well, except for the cry alone part.

It’s been well-documented that watching someone smile will lead to the watchers also smiling. The same goes for watching frowns. What one does when the Joker is standing in front of you, I’m not sure. I mean, that’s one disturbing smile-ish thing. Anyway.

Now, the newest research shows that it’s not just smiling and frowning that will cause us to move our lips. We can also be encouraged to smile or frown when we read about it.

In the first experiment, a group of students read a series of emotion verbs (e.g., “to smile,” “to cry”) and adjectives (e.g., “funny,” “frustrating”) on a monitor, while the activity of their zygomatic major (the muscle responsible for smiles) and corrugator supercilii (which causes frowns) muscles were measured.

The results showed that reading action verbs activated the corresponding muscles. For example, “to laugh” resulted in activation of the zygomatic major muscle, but did not cause any response in the muscles responsible for frowning. Interestingly, when presented with the emotion adjectives like “funny” or “frustrating” the volunteers demonstrated much lower muscle activation compared to their reactions to emotion verbs. The researchers note that muscle activity is “induced in the reader when reading verbs representing facial expressions of emotion.”

Not only that, but these apparently involuntary responses can also effect our judgment.

The results of these experiments reveal that simply reading emotion verbs activates specific facial muscles and can influence judgments we make. The researchers note these findings suggest that “language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic,” and they conclude that “these experiments provide an important bridge between research on the neurobiological basis of language and related behavioral research.”

Now this is news I could use. I think I’m going to start buying stock in post-it notes because I’m going to be using a lot of them. I’m going to post lots of smiling action verbs all over the house. I figure I might have found the silver bullet to slay teenage angst. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Freaky Friday: Would I Lie To You?

I will believe almost anything. It’s sad, really, just how gullible I am. Which makes it all the harder to ferret out the truth when one of my little dudes lies to me. The problem is that they’re all so convincing that I wind up not knowing who did the deed, but just choosing who’s most likely to have done it and then punishing them. I mean, random punishment has been proven pretty effective in operant conditioning of dogs, so little dudes shouldn’t be that much different, yeah?

All of which leads to my latest motto: I didn’t say you did it. I said I was blaming you. Yeah, I know. It’s great, right?

Anyway, I’m thinking we could all benefit from working with, or at least reading the book by, Dr. Paul Ekman, a researcher in the University of California’s department of psychiatry in San Francisco. It seems as if his life’s work in detecting lies is the basis for the Fox network’s show called Lie To Me.

Ekman has been trying to uncover how to detect lies for the last 40 years or so, a pretty impressive bit of obsession, I thought. What he’s discovered is that people under pressure, which is usually when lies come out, will tend to have micro-expressions flit across their face for very short periods of time.

…the ways in which we express anger, disgust, contempt, fear, surprise, happiness and sadness are both innate and universal.

The facial muscles triggered by those seven basic emotions are, he has shown, essentially the same, regardless of language and culture, from the US to Japan, Brazil to Papua New Guinea. What is more, expressions of emotion are involuntary; they are almost impossible to suppress or conceal. We can try, of course.

But particularly when we are lying, “microexpressions” of powerfully-felt emotions will invariably flit across our faces before we get a chance to stop them.

Most liars are lucky, though. According to Ekman, probably about 99 percent of people are unable to detect these microexpressions that give away the lie. Of course, there are naturals who can see this sort of thing without any special training. For those of us without that natural ability, Ekman said we can be trained up to detect lies. It’s just a matter of hard work.

Microexpressions, he says, are only part of a whole set of possible deception indicators. “There are also what we call subtle expressions – not brief, but very small, almost imperceptible. A very slight tightening of the lips, for example, is the most reliable sign of anger. You need to study a person’s whole demeanour: gesture, voice, posture, gaze, and also, of course, the words themselves.”Just read microexpressions and subtle expressions correctly, however, and Ekman reckons your accuracy in detecting an attempt at deception “will increase from chance to 70% or better”.

Now this sounds like something I could get into. Actually, it sounds like something I need to get into. Ekman actually offers a web-based course for $12. In fact, I’m going to do that right now. As far as you know. Hey, would I lie to you?

— Richard

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