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Study Finds Abilities, Traits, And Satisfaction Levels Are Preset By Particular Brain Connection

Study Finds Abilities, Traits, And Satisfaction Levels Are Preset By Particular Brain Connection

Ever wondered why you’re good at some things, or find it easier to engage in some behaviours more than others? It turns out that your very own brain might be the key to figuring the road map to your own abiilties, traits, and even how you become satisfied.

The research team behind the study, led by Oxford University’s Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, has found that different kinds of lifestyles, both positive and negative, correlate with the connections within the neural pathways of the brain and how they grow and change at fundamental stages in a human being’s development. In short, the way the brain develops affects and “programs” a lot of our behaviour.

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The team conducted the research by using data from the Human Connectomer Project (HCP), a brain-imaging study led by Oxford, Minnesota, and Washington universities, which paired up functional MRI scans of 1200 participants with extensive data gained alongside the MRI scans.

“The quality of the imaging data is really unprecedented,” Professor Stephen Smith, who led the research, said. “Not only is the number of subjects we get to study large, but the spatial and temporal resolution of the fMRI data is way ahead of previous large datasets.”

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The Oxford team took 461 of the scans and examined the data to create and map out an average outline of the processes of the participants’ brains, in order to examine how the regions of the brain worked with and communicated with one another; in particular, which areas work strongest together. The research evolved into a detailed description of how the 200 examined areas of the brain interconnected and related to each other, as well as equations and measures to help investigate relationships between the variables.

The results? The researchers found a strong correlation related to specific variations in the participants’ strongest neural links between areas in the brain. Essentially, it found that strong connections in the brain to certain areas were related to high external measurements in positive skillsets in the real world, such as memory, vocabulary, and life satisfaction. Equally strong connections to other areas of the brain were linked to more negative behaviours and lifestyles, such as anger levels, authority issues, risk-taking behaviours, and poor sleep quality.

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Interestingly, the researchers related the findings to previous research conducted in the 1940s, which identified the “g factor” or “general intelligence g-factor,” which is a potential variable proposed in early psychological research as a way to summarize an individual’s propensity at performing different cognitive tasks, such as memory, reading ability, and pattern recognition. These cognitive tasks strangely find themselves somewhat mirrored in the current research performed by the Oxford University team.

To quote the report at ScienceDaily, “Proponents of the g-factor point out that many intelligence-related measures are inter-related, suggesting that if you’re good at one thing, you’re likely to be good at the others, too. However, in the past, the g-factor has also received some criticism, partly because it is not necessarily clear if these correlations between different cognitive abilities are truly reflecting correlations between distinct underlying brain circuits. The new results, however, may provide an opportunity to understand if that’s correct, or if the processes in the brain tell a more complex story.”

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This idea of your abilities being somehow “hardwired” into the pathways of your brain as a fetus within the womb may be divisive among the neuroscientist community, but evidence for a “nature” basis in the kinds of skills we are adept at seems more likely. However, this is not to say that research like this eliminates the need for responsibility or agency within human behaviour — we cannot simply write away acts of violence as being the result of your brain being more inclined towards anger (such as Stephen Mobley’s failed defence for committing murder), as it would eliminate the power of human beings to resist natural inclinations and give certain individuals the feelings of immunity on either end of the spectrum of brain chemistry. The research, however, continues to fascinate.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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