October 24, 2010
Following on from a previous post entitled “Psychology Beyond The Brain“, my aim here is to further dissociate the strong, almost surreal, connection that many of us humans have with the notion that our brains are at the centre of our psychological drives… No point falling into a “Milgram Experiment” doze/stupor i.e. do and think as the man in the white lab coat says… Here, while doing our best to understand exactly what we are, we need to think outside of the box and use everything that has been scientifically proven, OR either shown to be fact, and build the picture, from the ground up, free from the confines of ‘normalised’ thinking.
So… In this somewhat patchy, but non the less fascinating TED talk, Heribert Watzke – a food scientist – shows us something quite bizarre… That we all have functioning neurones in our intestines… Yes… That’s right… Neurones in our intestines. About a hundred million of them, to be exact… Obviously it’s nothing like what the brain has i.e. 100 billion neurones that are all connected at about 100 trillion points… But still, we have these thinking cells in our gut too… !?
So what the hell are they for??? I remember when I used to think that we only thought from the brain… Many moons ago… But, as is shown here, Watzke tells us about the “hidden brain” in our gut and the surprising things it makes us feel…
To see where I sourced this talk from, please click here.
Or to find out more about where Heribert Watzke works i.e. at the Nestlé Research Center, please click here.
October 23, 2010
“All worldly pursuits have but the one unavoidable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings in destruction; meetings in separation; births, in death. Knowing this, one should, from the very first, renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building, and meeting; and faithful to the commands of an eminent guru, set about realizing the Truth (which has no birth or death).”
Note: According to a blessing Milarepa uttered towards the end of his life, anyone who but hears the name Milarepa even once attracts an instant blessing and will not take rebirth in a lower state of existence during seven consecutive lifetimes. This was prophesied by Saints and Buddhas of the past even before his lifetime.
October 3, 2010
The other day I read an interesting article in Scientific American magazine… One that aptly demonstrates that our psychology is not simply centred around the brain alone – as psychology has presumed for many years – but rather is dependent on the way the brain and body work together as a single unit.
Thus I am posting it here, so as to bring it to the attention of any readers who might be following this present thread, as it will be called into reference when I discuss the origins of ‘self’ in a future blog, where I will be using a concept that I have termed to be the “mind/brain/body/environment continuum” to show how ‘self’ comes about. I will not say anymore on this matter for the moment, as I feel this article sufficiently lays down the basis for introducing this idea.
What scientists are discovering by measuring the beating of the heart…
The brain has long enjoyed a privileged status as psychology’s favorite body organ. This is, of course, unsurprising given that the brain instantiates virtually all mental operations, from understanding language, to learning that fire is dangerous, to recalling the name of one’s kindergarten teacher, to categorizing fruits and vegetables, to predicting the future. Arguing for the importance of the brain in psychology is like arguing for the importance of money in economics.
More surprising, however, is the role of the entire body in psychology and the capacity for body parts inside and out to influence and regulate the most intimate operations of emotional and social life. The stomach’s gastric activity , for example, corresponds to how intensely people experience feelings such as happiness and disgust. The hands’ manipulation of objects that vary in temperature and texture influences judgments of how “warm” or “rough” people are. And the ovaries and testes’ production of progesterone and testosterone shapes behavior ranging from financial risk-taking to shopping preferences.
Psychology’s recognition of the body’s influence on the mind coincides with a recent focus on the role of the heart in our social psychology. It turns out that the heart is not only critical for survival, but also for how people related to one another. In particular, heart rate variability (HRV), variation in the heart’s beat-to-beat interval, plays a key role in social behaviors ranging from decision-making, regulating one’s emotions, coping with stress, and even academic engagement. Decreased HRV appears to be related to depression and autism and may be linked to thinking about information deliberately. Increased HRV, on the other hand, is associated with greater social skills such as recognizing other people’s emotions and helps people cope with socially stressful situations, such as thinking about giving a public speech or being evaluated by someone of another race. This diverse array of findings reflects a burgeoning interest across clinical psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, and developmental psychology in studying the role of the heart in social life.
A key moment for the field came in 1995, when Stephen Porges, currently a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, put forth Polyvagal Theory, a theory that emphasized the role of the heart in social behavior. The theory states that the vagus nerve, a nerve likely found only in mammals, provides input to the heart to guide behavior as complex as forming relationships with other people as well as disengaging from others. A distinguishing feature of Polyvagal theory is that it places importance not on heart rate per se, but rather on the variability of the heart rate, previously thought to be an uninteresting variable or mere noise.
Since 1995, a broad spectrum of research emerged in support of Polyvagal theory and has demonstrated the importance of the heart in social functioning. In 2001, Porges and his colleagues monitored infants when they engaged in a social interaction with the experimenter (cooing, talking, and smiling at them) and when they encountered the experimenter simply making a still face—a frozen expression—toward them. Infants’ HRV not only increased during the social interaction, but also increases in HRV predicted positive engagement (greater attention and active participation by the infants) during this interaction. In adults as well, HRV appears to be associated with success in regulating one’s emotions during social interaction, extraversion, and general positive mood.
A number of recent findings converge on the role of heart rate variability in adaptive social functioning as well. One study by Bethany Kok and Barbara Frederickson, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, asked 52 adults to report how often they experienced positive emotions like happiness, awe, and gratitude and how socially connected they felt in their social interactions every day for a period of nine weeks. The researchers also measured the HRV of each individual at the beginning and end of the study by measuring heart rate during a two-minute session of normal breathing. HRV at the beginning of the study predicted how quickly people developed positive feelings and experiences of social connectedness throughout the nine-week period. In addition, experiences of social connectedness predicted increases in HRV at the end of the study, demonstrating a reciprocal relationship between heart rate and having satisfying social experiences.
Although high heart rate variability seems to have largely positive effects on people’s emotional state and their ability to adapt to their social environment, the story may soon become more complicated. For example, in unpublished research, Katrina Koslov and Wendy Berry Mendes at Harvard University have recently found that people’s capacity to alter—and in a sense regulate—HRV predicts theirsocial skills. In three studies, Koslov and Mendes measured this capacity to alter HRV during a task involving tracking the location of shapes on a computer screen (completely unrelated to anything social), and demonstrated that people’s capacity to alter HRV during this task subsequently predicted both their ability to judge others’ emotions accurately and their sensitivity to social feedback (how much they responded positively to positive feedback and negatively to negative feedback). These findings suggest that although high HRV at rest may be adaptive for social engagement, the capacity to modulate HRV also promotes social sensitivity.
Writers from Ovid to Stevie Wonder have used the heart as a convenient metaphor to convey emotional responses toward others. Emerging research suggests, however, that this metaphor is an oversimplification. The heart has complex interactions with how we treat and evaluate others, how we cope with social stress, and how we manage our emotions, and research has only begun to explore the relationship between cardiovascular processes and social life. Although philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “The heart has reasons that reason cannot know,” it is clear that psychological research is beginning to illuminate this mystery.
written by Adam Waytz
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