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The Teenage Brain Anxiety Courage to Create


Are Humor
and Sadness
Love Beyond
Why Do We Blush?
How To Find Joy
Affective Narrative
Feelings Over


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Frontal Lobes
10 Joy and How to Find It
(Where You Might Be Overlooking)
12 Cool Head, Open Heart. How Bodily
Awareness Increases Empathy

14 Wired (and Ready) for Stories
BELIEFS BY DISCARDING 20 Blushing. Why Your Emotions Are Written All
Over Your Face

32 ATA 24 Coping with Comedy. The Relationship Between

Humor and Sadness
28 Speaking Up and Out. Taking Notice of the
THE Teenage Brain.
WE 32 Feelings Over Facts. How Influence Really Works

contents 36
BEFORE. 36 The Frontal Lobe. The Brain’s Powerhouse


38 Love and Emotion. Can You Have One
Without The Other?

40 Mending Mindless Multitasking and

Daily Brain Drains

42 On The Strange Order Of Things.
A Q&A with Dr. Antonio Damasio

46 How Emotions Are Made. A Q&A

with Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett

52 Always At The Back of Our Minds.
Exploring The Science of Anxiety

56 Affective Narrative Medicine. The Role

of Emotion in the Clinical Conversation

60 Helping How We Feel. Regulating

Emotion Through ISF Neurofeedback

62 TV: Jane

64 Books: Writing for Bliss

65 Brain World Bits

66 Calendar of Brain-Related Events

The Last Word

68 Courage to Create
42Summer 2018
letter from
the publisher
■ How are you feeling? It’s probably the question we ask the most every day — and probably
also have to answer. You may find that rarely, if ever, do you have the exact words to describe
it — or the right people to tell what you’re feeling and going through on a daily basis. We have
trouble finding the right words to describe them: the mixed emotions we feel wandering through BrainWorld Summer 2018
a strange place, remembering a lost relative, or dealing with daily frustrations at work.
These feelings, once associated with the heart rather than the mind or the brain, were once
thought to be regulated by different portions of the brain. We long thought of the amygdala as Publisher
the brain’s fear response center, and the hypothalamus has long been associated with pleasure. Yet, The Earth Citizen Way, Inc.
new research shows that numerous portions of the brain are at work when we take in informa- Editor-in-Chief
tion from the world around us and process the way Isabel Pastor Guzman
it makes us feel.
Associate Editor
Our good days seem particularly good not just Ju Eun Shin
because we might have gotten that promotion,
or that unexpected visit from a friend, but also Assistant Editor
James Sullivan
because of the past memories that were invoked —
sometimes by things as subtle as a pleasant change Art Direction & Design
of weather. We feel like sometimes we let our emo- Dave Shulman
tions, our feelings, get in the way — but in fact,
they are a significant part of who we are, and shape Contributors
us in ways we may never fully realize. Ralph Bernardo, Nicole Dean,
We might even like to think that we’re more David Driscoll, Isabel Pastor Guzman,
Rania Hanna, Stephanie Kramer,
level-headed than others in a given situation — Earl Meagan, Jacqueline Melendy,
that only other people are easily influenced and Lauren Migliore, Charles Ethan Paccione,
won over — that they break down easier than we Jane Piper, Charlene Smith,
do. This is because as we grow and develop, we James Sullivan, Drew Turney
also learn to recognize our own emotions in other Copy Editor
people; we empathize with sad faces and laugh Ralph Bernardo
when the people around us laugh. The eyes give it
Editorial Intern
away, or perhaps the shape of the mouth — we have long been taught that faces do not lie — our Sara Bellum
emotions are one of the reasons we evolved socially as a species.
Yet, we know much less than we think we do, and how we experience and express our own Advertising
Ju Eun Shin
emotions is never quite the same as the people around us. This is why we tend to think that is- Phone: 212.319.0848, Fax: 212.319.8671
sues such as depression or anxiety are easy to overcome — that we can always turn to our inner
thoughts and will ourselves out — when things are not so simple. It is for these reasons that we Subscriptions
dedicate our summer issue to the topic of emotion and the brain to understand and explore their Brain World Magazine
full potential. It is our sincere hope that you enjoy reading this issue. 866 U.N. Plaza, Suite 407, New York, NY 10017
© 2018, The Earth Citizen Way, Inc.

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oy is not in things; it is in us. It sounds simple Fortunately, recent research logical effects of a single bad one.

J enough — but it’s an aphorism that’s all too easy to

forget as we live our day-to-day lives. Too many mo-
ments are spent simply trying to make ends meet — even
suggests a good place to start.
Joy may be in us, but how we
perceive our own lives could
be the exact thing that keeps
When equal measures of good
and bad are present, however,
the psychological effects of bad
ones outweigh those of the good
when we think that promotion or that new apartment is us from experiencing it. Shelly ones.” You probably had a full
bound to make us happier, more content with our lives. It Gable and Jonathan Haidt, ex- night’s sleep, picked up a surpris-
may be common knowledge that acquiring more luxuries perts in a rising field known ingly decent cup of coffee on the
doesn’t bring more happiness — no matter how in sync as “positive psychology,” have way to work, and probably just
with our dreams it may be. Finding that joy within us, demonstrated through research opened your office window to
seems a much more daunting task. We may come to believe that however unhappy we may let in some unseasonably warm
that it’s only available in small doses — you get that dream be with our lives, we typically weather, before sitting down
have three times more positive to check your email and find a
apartment and then the refrigerator goes … life somehow experiences than bad ones on a rather scathing one sent from
reverts back to normal eventually. We may spend our whole daily basis. For some reason, it’s the project manager. It’s pretty
lives searching — trying to extract purpose from every- the bad ones that seem to stand likely that whatever she wrote is
where we turn. out. Why is that? Experts have going to dampen the rest of your
singled out two factors: negativ- day — no matter how many
ity bias and habituation. pleasant little surprises are just
As the psychologist Roy Bau- around the corner. If it’s a pretty
meister once wrote: “Many good decent job on most days, and
events can overcome the psycho- you started with good pay, you

may forget the things you en- bert and colleagues at Brigham even improving physical health. care about, we can try to be
joy about it the longer you stay Young University demonstrates Lambert’s study, however, shows that person — a supportive and
around — even promotions and that discussing your positive life how verbally expressing the empathic listener. You may not
raises aren’t always likely to make experiences not only increases gratitude is even more crucial only be helping your friend,
you happier — a cycle known as your well-being but your overall than merely experiencing it. Test but the people around them as
the “hedonic treadmill.” satisfaction with life, and even subjects were asked to write daily well. It’s easy to think of seeking
Aside from trying to reflect increases your energy. reflections in a journal over a joy as a selfish goal, or at least
on the good experiences you Lambert and his researchers monthlong period about events a lonely one, but perhaps it is
have from day to day, maybe suggest that you share the good they felt grateful for. The group long past time we see it differ-
you should feel free to share things that happen to you with that shared their reflections by ently — something we can share
them with those around you — close friends or romantic part- reading aloud to a partner re- with others while helping them
your spouse or significant other, ners, those trusted confidantes ported greater satisfaction with realize their own. The novelist
friends, co-workers, or family. It more likely to support you. The life, happiness, and their overall Virginia Woolf once cautioned
might sound like showing off — participants in the project felt vitality. us: “Pleasure has no relish un-
we all don’t want to be the office happier and more emotionally All too often we seek out peo- less we share it.” Now we have
overachiever. As a result, we tend satisfied the more they shared ple we can confide in with bad evidence she was right.
to play up the negative events in their experiences with people news. It may be just as impor-
our life, feeling it makes us easier on that particular day. Earlier tant that we are able to break
to relate to, and more empathet- studies have also shown that good news the same way, seek-
ic to our co-workers who don’t gratitude improves our ability to ing out a trusted listener who
have it so good. Yet, research connect with others, while also can appreciate these moments
conducted by Nathaniel Lam- making us more optimistic, and with us each day. For those we

Summer 2018
M any phrases and metaphors relate to the heart and the
brain: “Follow your heart.” “Mind over matter.” “He
has a cold heart.” “She has a steel mind.”
This sometimes makes it seem that the heart and the
brain are separate, each living in its own world, without
connection to the other. Research shows, however, that
the heart and the brain are interconnected, with one organ
passing information along to the other. Importantly, we
can recognize — and manipulate — our heart and brain
through our heartbeats.




At the University of Sus- communicates the ever-changing

sex, Dr. Sarah Garfinkel tells state of the heart to the brain.
the story of how emotions and Every time the heart beats,
cognition are embodied: how the brain flashes, and the brain’s
your heartbeats and awareness flashes coincide with how fast
can shape your emotional state, and how hard the brain is beat-
ranging from anxiety levels to ing. The brain changes alongside
decision-making. These inter- the heart’s dynamic state, that
nal signals report back on the is, the amygdala and thalamus
homeostatic state of the body, — regions associated with fear
alerting the person to states like and pain — affected by this
hunger and thirst, anxiety, and heart-brain relationship. Your
pain. This awareness is called brain, therefore, is its own entity,
“interoception”: the sensing of but it also represents the body’s
physiological signals, including activity, including that of other
heart rate. Most of us know this organs. How your organs react
ability as your “gut feeling.” to stimuli can dictate how your
One way the body and brain brain responds.
communicate is via barorecep- The brain and body shouldn’t
tors, which are sensitive to pres- be separated; instead, the brain
sure and stretch in the heart and should be seen as being en-
arteries. Every time the heart meshed with the body. This is
ejects blood, the baroreceptors important in offering ways of
analyze the strength and tim- treating anxiety or behavioral
ing of each heartbeat, and send and emotional issues. Making
the information to the brain via people more aware of their bodi-
the vagus and glossopharyngeal ly sensations can make them
nerves. This is the major mecha- more aware of emotions, and
nism for fast- and short-term more empathetic toward others.
blood pressure regulation. It is This is why engaging in medi-
also the primary way the body tation or yoga, which increases

awareness of bodily sensations, WHEN CHANGES IN THE HEART’S internal state and how it is con-
can help develop emotional in- tributing to their feelings —
telligence. When practicing yoga
STATE PASS A THRESHOLD, IT they may be better able to con-
poses regularly, people become BECOMES A CUE TO THE BRAIN — trol their reactions to stimuli.
more attuned to how their body AND THE PERSON. HOWEVER, WHEN Heartbeat-awareness training
feels in the poses. This makes THERE ARE BODILY SENSATIONS is possible. Interoception may be
them aware not only of their THAT AREN’T ACCOUNTED FOR taught, increasing people’s accu-
body in space, but also of the racy in awareness of their bodily
state of their body, that is, intero- sensations. This can help people
ception. Being more “interocep- UNDERSTOOD BY THEM TO BE become more aware of their in-
tive” — more aware of the body RELATED TO CERTAIN STIMULI, IT ternal state in response to stimuli,
— also gives people a chance to CAN COME OUT AS ANXIETY. for example, a black man holding
change their internal state. a cellphone. If a person sees a
Heartbeats are frequent, dis- black person and feels a threat
tinct, and can be easily counted or anxiety. When changes in the exaggerated at systole. His study response, being interoceptive
within a time frame, or associat- heart’s state pass a threshold, it participants were more likely to may give them the moment they
ed with changes in external stim- becomes a cue to the brain — say that a black man was holding need to collect their thoughts and
uli. In other words, heartbeats and the person. However, when a gun rather than the phone or respond less negatively.
can be noted in a variety of situa- there are bodily sensations that wallet he was actually holding. Interoception can also re-
tions and provide easily obtained aren’t accounted for by the per- As troubling as this might duce anxiety by decreasing the
quantitative data. Therefore by son, or easily understood by them be, there’s hope, though. These amount of unrecognized bodily
measuring a person’s awareness to be related to certain stimuli, it studies lend credence to the idea sensations. Staying “cool as a
of their heartbeats, one can mea- can come out as anxiety. of interoception being a viable cucumber” can keep your brain
sure interoceptive awareness. When interoception relates way of increasing empathy. If from setting itself metaphorically
Those affected by autism to heart rate, two instances are someone is in a stressful situ- on fire — and keep you connect-
spectrum conditions (ASC) noted: “systole” and “diastole.” ation, but can recognize their ed with yourself and others.
have trouble recognizing and Cardiac systole is when blood
regulating emotions. In a study is pushed out of the heart as it
published in Biological Psychol- contracts, and cardiac diastole is
ogy in 2016, Garfinkel’s team when the heart refills with blood
decided to study those with au- as it relaxes. In a 2014 study pub-
tism, since they also to tend lished in The Journal of Neurosci-
to have accompanying anxiety. ence, Garfinkel and her colleagues
They found that those with ASC examined how faces are processed
have trouble with interoception. emotionally. They found that
They are less accurate and more fearful faces were detected more
sensitive in processing bodily easily and felt more intensely
signals; they’re less aware of their at systole than at diastole. This
own heartbeats. This can be re- corresponded with greater amyg-
lated to the higher rates of anxi- dala responses to fearful stimuli
ety that those with autism tend presented at systole rather than
to suffer from, and the reduced diastole. At the neural level, baro-
ability they have in being able to receptor effects are associated
recognize their emotions and the in the processing of threatening
emotions of others. stimuli and are involved in the
But the inability to recognize engagement of brain systems
interoceptive activity is not rel- related to emotional processing,
egated only to those with autism such as the amygdala.
This is especially important
when someone has to make a
threat assessment in a fraction
of a second. In a 2017 study
Frontal published in Nature Communica-
Lobes tions, the University of London’s
Ruben Azevedo and his col-
leagues found that negative racial
stereotypes of black people are

Summer 2018
■ Humans don’t only respond to stories, we can’t stay away structs and lives a ‘narrative.’ THE POWER OF STORY
This narrative is us.” Philosopher Our predilection for stories
from them. Because of a unique emotional property, the brain
Daniel Dennett wrote, “we are makes them one of the most
tends to connect us deeply to stories and narratives. Why are all virtuoso novelists, who find powerful tools to communicate
we so primed for a good book or movie to carry us away? ourselves engaged in all sorts of with and sometimes manipulate
To understand how, look no further than Clark Kent’s behavior … and we always put behavior through our emotional
the best ‘faces’ on it we can. We response, as experts from ad-
glasses. Stories connect with our emotions directly and try to make all of our material vertising, politics, and plenty
make believers out of us. When you think about it, a su- cohere into a single good story. of other professional fields well
perhero known the world putting on a pair of glasses and a And that story is our autobiogra- know. Facts and reason are cold,
phy. The chief fictional character even-tempered — not concerned
tie and going to work at The Daily Planet, where nobody at the center of that autobiogra- with context. Stories connect di-
recognizes him, is kind of ridiculous. phy is one’s self.” rectly with the emotions, so they
Except it isn’t. It’s actually a tes- romance, drama, thrills, and Everything that goes on around elicit a much faster, hotter, and
tament to what can be thought of terror have been a critical part of us is likewise a story, from war stronger response.
as story-readiness potential. Our our social evolution as a species. and peace to a garden beetle we Think of the boundless statis-
emotional response sees us swept But while enjoying a good yarn watch climbing up a flower. We tics about hunger in developing
up in stories and narratives in- on a screen or in the pages of a even attribute story where none nations we gloss over impas-
stinctively, even without meaning book (or around the primeval might exist — holding back from sively, while a picture of a single
to. If a film, book, comic, or even campfire) is great for relaxation impeding the beetle’s progress sick, hungry child with flies on
a friendly anecdote builds a world and amusement, such a strong because of the disappointment her face in a magazine has us
and characters and puts them in a disposition must have a deep- or frustration it might feel, even reaching for our wallets to make
coherent sense of their own logic, seated anthropological point. though we know both emotions a donation. In his book “Hu-
we believe it fully — often sus- are probably too advanced for a man Errors: A Panorama of Our
pending belief in our own world TALKING TO OURSELVES beetle to ever experience. Glitches, from Pointless Bones
to do so. When Superman puts The first step to understand It partly explains our ten- to Broken Genes,” CUNY biolo-
on glasses and the dialogue and why humans are such effective dency to anthropomorphize, gist Nathan Lents says, “Stories
performances make it obvious storytelling and story-readiness subconsciously applying human carry more weight with us than
nobody around him knows who animals is to realize that we our- characteristics and emotions to generalized statistics do because
he really is, it poses no barrier to us selves are “stories” — your un- nonhuman — sometimes inani- we can relate to the protagonists
believing it — no matter how silly. broken stream of consciousness mate — objects. In 2000’s “Cast of a story and feel empathy for
From jaw-dropping tales of is the “story” of your life, told in Away,” Tom Hanks paints a face them. We cannot feel empathy
the hunt around the tribal camp- the language of emotion about onto a volleyball, and it becomes for data.”
fire to the incredible reach of the your memories and experiences. a stand-in for human contact It’s the kind of ethos Hol-
modern media, our emotional As the late neurologist Oliver to the extent it keeps him sane. lywood was built on — artifice
response to accounts of danger, Sacks wrote, “each of us con- Think of the way a child will ap- designed to move us emotion-
ply human emotion and interac- ally even at the expense of the
tional frameworks onto any toy truth. How many movies “in-
or object. (A practice that The spired by true events” have there
Walt Disney Company has made been? Today, commercial and
a fortune out of over the years.) political interests, hoping to
We’re even hardwired to react convince the public, know how
emotionally to stories so much important it is to find, design,
that we sometimes make them up and spread the narrative about a
to make sense of the world when product or candidate. Against all
they don’t fit all the facts, in a odds, a widely disliked man won
phenomenon called “confabula- the White House with a simple
tion.” (Note “fabula” is the Latin story (“Make America Great
word for “story.”) If two equally Again”), beating an opponent
qualified candidates — male and who seemed far more dignified
female — apply for a job, the bias and experienced by comparison.
toward believing males are more
capable in the workplace kicks
in, and recruiters will tell you
afterward they picked the male
candidate because he seemed
more qualified.

But the emotional power of cupies. But by very slowly rotat-
stories isn’t just about swaying ing the VR image at a different
people to your way of thinking. speed to that of the user’s move-
Dr. Paul J. Zak is an author, pro- ments and the selective moving
fessor of economics, psychology, and replacing of features within
and management, and the direc- the VR world, the University of
tor of the Center for Neuroeco- Southern California’s Dr. Evan
nomics Studies at Claremont Suma Rosenberg and his team
Graduate University, and his can make the virtual space far
work has shown that character- larger than the real-world user
driven stories with emotional area. Part of Rosenberg’s research
content result in a finer under- came from psychology where he
standing of key points and en- discovered that even when the
able better recall later. brain perceives of something as
spatially wrong, it doesn’t take us
STORYTELLING MACHINES out of the experience as much as
What’s perhaps most amazing you’d assume. It works partly be-
isn’t just our willingness to buy cause the changes made without
into stories, but the efficiency the user directing them are too
with which our emotions latch subtle to perceive, but also be-
onto them even when we know cause the environment is simply
it’s a fictional construction. another story we instinctively THE SECRET INGREDIENT the same levels of happiness as life
Sit down to a movie with ter- want to believe in. The instinct that expresses it- experiences, suggesting that the
rible special effects and your But the second and maybe self as story-readiness might be emotions portrayed in stories are
nervous and emotional systems even more fascinating aspect Homo sapiens’ advanced powers as real to us as our own.
will still react as if there’s really of our hardwiring for stories is of empathy — a critical skill in Such a claim stands to reason
a giant lizard attacking a city, the unique phenomenon where the “collaborate or die” world of — as we’ve already seen in the
or a madman in a hockey mask we’re completely decoupled protohumans. It’s a thesis that phenomenon where your sense
skewering a nubile teenager with from our conscious selves. There some brain studies seem to bear of self effectively ceases to exist,
a garden implement. Even if we are a couple of similar things in out. Dr. Tania Singer of the Max a good story comes to life in our
watch shadow puppets against the human behavioral repertoire Planck Institute for Human Cog- consciousness, and feels as real
a wall, we immediately under- (sleep, the point of orgasm, etc.), nitive and Brain Sciences showed as other experiences in life when
stand the emotional journey the but when we’re watching a movie how the brain responds to an you’re engrossed in it. Associate
dog and the rabbit is going on. or reading a novel, we quite liter- event that’s not happening to us, professor of psychology Ryan
It’s not the quality of the art that ally forget we exist, vicariously but we nevertheless witness. If we Howell, the study’s co-author,
makes our response transcend living the lives and feeling the hit our thumb with a hammer, called the results “good news for
the artifice; it’s our constant state emotions of those in the story — one “circuit” ascertains whether materialists.” “If your goal is to
of story-readiness. in place of ours. Until the movie the sensation is pleasant or un- make yourself happier but you’re
Part of that is the extent to ends, we put the book down, or pleasant, another tells us where a person who likes stuff, then
which our brains want to believe internal mechanics (like a full in the body the sensation is local- you should buy things that are
in illusions. We’ve all heard of bladder) demand enough atten- ized, and the third gives us the going to engage your senses,” he
the experiments where mirrors tion, we can become unaware of perception of the pain itself. If we said. “You’re going to be just as
and rubber arms trick us into the usual trappings of our sense see someone else hit their thumb happy as if you buy a life experi-
thinking a fake limb is ours and of self, like time passing. with a hammer the first circuit — ence, because in some sense this
swear we can feel it being stroked distinguishing between pleasure product is going to give you a
by a feather. Writ a little larger, and pain — is activated, creating life experience.”
the same mental trickery can be a general awareness in us of how Lisa Bortolotti, professor of
applied to the frameworks that nasty it must feel, despite not philosophy at the U.K.’s Uni-
deliver narratives. One example feeling the pain ourselves. versity of Birmingham, who
presented at Siggraph 2017 (the There’s also the finding that specializes in the philosophy
annual trade show for computer- the stories you experience in films of the cognitive sciences, says
driven visual technology) was a and books might be making you that if our avid consumption
new approach to virtual reality as fulfilled as if you’d lived them of stories is at least partly ex-
(VR). yourself. As research from San plained by our capacity to feel
Traditionally a virtual space Francisco State University has for fictional characters, it seems
has to be much the same size as shown, books, videos, and other to fit the idea that fiction helps
the physical space the user oc- “experiential products” provide simulate feelings appropriate to

Summer 2018
different circumstances. “When chimpanzee colony in the Yerkes hardwired for stories is just an USING IT
we read a book or watch a movie National Primate Research Cen- unintended evolutionary con- We can artificially change dopa-
about war, illness, or divorce, we ter, when Thai, an adult female sequence of empathy — a skill mine levels, affect thought pro-
prepare ourselves for those situ- particularly taken with de Waal, taken too far like some research cesses with transcranial magnetic
ations that we might not have started screaming and hitting suggests that language is in re- stimulation, and improve brain
encountered yet in our lives,” she herself because he wasn’t paying lation to breath control. In a health in countless other ways.
says. “Fictional stories are like a her enough attention. world full of predators, rivals, Could we somehow hack our
practice run for real life.” That his subsequent fawn- and mating opportunities, any- hardwired propensity for narra-
Clues from the chemistry of ing over Thai calmed her down thing (the prehistoric equivalent tives to treat mental illnesses or
brain response certainly seem isn’t the interesting part. The of a good book) that so com- brain disorders?
to identify empathy as the se- other apes in the colony crowd- pletely disconnects you from Zak’s lab has found that high-
cret sauce of story-readiness. As ed around her to murmur and your immediate sense of self and ly immersive stories can change
Zak’s research showed, the brain stroke her — comforting her in your environment is dangerous. attitudes, opinions, and behav-
produces oxytocin when we feel her distress. Just as fascinating Of course, evolution is a con- iors effectively, even weeks after
trusted or are shown a kindness, was that Zahn-Waxler recog- stant series of trade-offs. We the story was seen or heard. “I
and it motivates cooperation with nized the behavior from her won’t notice the hungry saber- haven’t seen a systematic applica-
others, doing so by enhancing the work with children — babies ex- toothed cat sneaking into the tion of story to mental illness,”
ability to experience others’ emo- hibit comforting behaviors from cave until it’s too late if we’re he says, “but take the friend or
tions. “By taking blood before and little more than 12 months of in the throes of passion, but sex family member who convinces
after the narrative, we found char- age. So not only does empathy ensures greater genetic diversity you to visit a psychiatrist, the
acter-driven stories consistently seem common to all primates, across a species. Spending eight psychiatrist who convinces you
cause oxytocin synthesis,” he says. we seem to be born with it. hours a night unconscious like- to take some medications or join
The thing is, empathy makes wise left our forebears complete- a counseling group, the stories
MENTAL BEDFELLOWS perfect evolutionary sense. See- ly unguarded, but sleep offers a by others to stay on the medica-
Just like our love of stories, em- ing the signals tribe mates gave biological advantage that’s worth tions that often have unpleasant
pathy predates language, which off let us imagine the pain, fear, the biological risk. side effects.”
gives a little more credence to the or joy they felt before they had In the cost-benefit analysis of “Some mental illnesses are
idea that the two are inextricably the means to just tell us how they empathizing with others to the what I call ‘cortical fantasies,’
linked. Findings at London’s felt, and the fact that empathy is point where a story will carry like depression and pain. Not
University College go so far as an entirely emotional response us away from the here and now to say they’re not real, but the
to claim that story-readiness was gave us a very efficient method and leave us vulnerable, how can brain establishes a maladaptive
the element that promoted co- of social interaction. Encourag- story-readiness possibly be an loop where anxiety leads to inac-
operation among hunter-gather- ing everyone to be a productive evolutionary advantage? If the tion [depression] or pain signals
ers before the advent of religion. member of the group was often upside wasn’t worth the risk, evo- are experienced as debilitating.
In fact, empathy probably pre- a literal matter of life and death. lution would have elected against Social support, which always
dates human beings altogether. But what about story-read- the behavior (or gene) long ago. comes with a story, can change
Anecdotes abound of dolphins iness? “There are different hy- Bortolotti agrees that our ca- our interpretation of the stressors
rescuing terrified humans lost potheses about the evolutionary pacity for becoming engrossed in and, in some cases, make them
at sea, or animals caring for the advantages our love for stories story has both benefits and costs disappear. I don’t think stories
young of other species they find might have,” says Bortolotti. when it comes to survival. The are the most effective treatment
abandoned or alone, but pri- “Some think telling stories in- advantage might be that stories for severe mental illnesses like bi-
matologist Frans de Waal once creases sexual attractiveness and count as practice for the day that polar disorder or schizophrenia,
saw it close-up. His book, “Our improves our chances to repro- we ourselves live the experience but they could be part of it.”
Inner Ape: A Leading Primatolo- duce. Others say storytelling depicted, whether it’s falling in The concepts of self, story,
gist Explains Why We Are Who brings us together, forging so- love or fighting off alien invad- emotion, and empathy are
We Are,” talks about the day he cial bonds among individuals ers. “But too much empathy closely linked in the human
was showing child psychologist and supporting cooperation in or too much involvement in a animal. Whatever they can teach
Carolyn Zahn-Waxler around his groups. One theory that reso- story can also be costly,” she says. us about what we are and where
nates with recent debates about “Things are complicated!” we’re headed — it’s certain
fake news and the power of sto- they’ve played a pretty big part
ries in politics is that telling in getting us this far.
stories helps us control other
people. We often tell stories to
support an argument and per-
suade others we’re right to get
them on our side.”
Weirder still, maybe being

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■ Nearly everyone can remember a situation in which
they’ve said the wrong thing. Who hasn’t suddenly felt their

cheeks burning and their face redden with humiliation?
Although embarrassment isn’t actually painful, its intensity
can create an agonizing memory that lives in our minds for
years. For some people, it can lead to a vicious cycle of feel-
ing increasingly awkward and blushing more.
“It’s hard to walk through life if you’re constantly blush-
ing and embarrassed about your blush,” says Dr. Mark
Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke
University in North Carolina. While some people blush
only a few times a year, others blush a dozen or more times
a day. An unfortunate few find blushing so frustrating and
distressing that they resort to cognitive behavioral therapy,
medication, or even surgery.
One reason we dislike having flushed cheeks is that we
worry others might judge us negatively. But if we believe
that blushing makes everything worse, then we could be
mistaken. In fact, some studies show the opposite to be
true. Researchers have found that people often prefer men
and women who blush. So instead of being a bad thing,
blushing might have some positive effects.

WHY DO PEOPLE BLUSH? involuntary, so it’s not under our

Embarrassment is emotional as control.
well as physical. When embar- It’s perhaps the uncontrol-
rassment strikes, it causes us to lable nature of blushing that
flush and even freeze up for what bothers us most. Psychologist
can seem like an unbearably Dr. Ian Stephen of Macquarie
long moment. Your body goes University in Sydney, Australia
into fight-or-flight mode, which has found that, contrary to what
is the same sympathetic nervous we might believe, most people
system response that kicks in consider faces with more red-
whenever you feel fear or anxi- dishness to be more attractive.
ety. It also triggers the release of When Stephen presented people
adrenaline and other hormones. with images of visages of varying
Adrenaline causes the small skin tones, and allowed them
veins under the skin’s surface, or to enhance their appearance,
capillaries, to open wider which participants almost invariably
allows more blood to flow into added an extra hint of pink to
them, giving you rosy cheeks. increase their rosiness.
People who are fair-skinned Of course, turning red-faced
flush more easily and notice- with embarrassment is a differ-
ably than people with darker ent matter. Blushing affects our
skin, in whom a blush is often most visible feature — our face
still visible but less conspicuous. — and it often happens when we
Women tend to blush more least want to be the center of at-
readily and frequently than men. tention. As Stephen puts it, you
Like all sympathetic nervous don’t always want your feelings
system reactions, blushing is displayed on your face. »

Summer 2018
is that silently expressing our dis- interpret blushing as a sign of
PEOPLE INTERPRET comfort with a situation com- trustworthiness and are thus
BLUSHING AS A SIGN OF municates something vital and more willing to associate with
important about our social values. others who blush or show other
TRUSTWORTHINESS AND In a series of studies, Dr. Mat- signs of being embarrassed. It
ARE THUS MORE WILLING thew Feinberg, an assistant pro-
fessor of organizational behavior
shows that you care what others
think of you.
TO ASSOCIATE WITH at the University of Toronto, ob- Embarrassment is different
OTHERS WHO BLUSH OR served how people react to em-
barrassment in others. He tested
from shame or guilt — all of
which belong to a group of “self-
SHOW OTHER SIGNS OF whether blushing has a positive conscious emotions.” These also
social aspect, for instance, as a occur after failing to meet social
BEING EMBARRASSED. means of showing that you are expectations, but each of them
IT SHOWS THAT YOU the type of person who doesn’t is expressed differently and felt
take advantage of others. differently. Unlike shame or
CARE WHAT OTHERS During one such experiment, guilt, sheer awkwardness doesn’t
THINK OF YOU. researchers asked people to
describe an embarrassing inci-
involve a moral transgression.
“When people are ashamed they
Some people are more vulner- stranger next to you — blush- dent from their past (such as will cover their face, but with
able to blushing. People who are ing apologizes for the mishap. tripping over their shoelaces in embarrassment you grimace and
very shy or have social anxiety It acknowledges having broken public). They first measured turn it to the side — you don’t
can have a much harder time a social rule and helps avoid a how intensely the participants cover it,” says Feinberg.
than the more confident. “It more serious confrontation. blushed as they recounted the Not blushing may be worse.
depends on how sensitive your But negative attention is not experience. Next they tracked It could be seen as evidence of
nervous system is,” says Leary. the only reason people blush. how much each person spent a person lacking self-awareness
“How is your brain is designed? There are other reasons as well. on a raffle ticket. It turns out or insight into oneself. On the
How easily are certain emotions “We think of people blushing that people who were more eas- other hand, if embarrassment or
triggered?” with embarrassment. But people ily embarrassed also exhibited momentary awkwardness brings
“People differ in how much can blush when they’re viewed greater generosity when pur- on a blush, this only reveals our
they think people think about positively,” says Leary. You can chasing the tickets. concern for others’ feelings.
them,” says Leary. “The more blush when receiving an award, In a second part of the study, So, although it sometimes
you think about what other or being complimented, or hear- the scientists tested people’s can make us feel uncomfort-
people are thinking about you, ing profuse thanks. willingness to act in a proso- able, the advantages of blushing
the more likely you are to blush. “There’s a point at which even cial manner (for example, being might outweigh the disadvan-
You’re more attuned to social positive attention is too much,” cooperative) toward someone tages — it just doesn’t feel that
attention.” For instance, people says Leary. Confused or ambiva- depending on whether they ex- way at first.
who worry about their public lent feelings can also put you on hibited higher or lower levels of
image, have low self-esteem, or guard and cause the blood to embarrassment. They found that
are highly concerned about the rush to your face. This can hap- people were more likely to coop-
negative opinion of others are pen, for example, if you sense erate with those who openly dis-
more vulnerable to blushing. a group of people sitting on a played their awkward feelings.
This raises two questions: bench staring at you. The reason, they believe, is that
What is the purpose of blush- Yet you can also blush at some- doing so increases trust.
ing when we feel embarrassed? thing someone else says or does. “A blush is something you
And how might it serve as a This seems to suggest that other can’t fake,” says Feinberg. People
social cue? Many psychologists factors, besides social attention,
believe that after a social mis- might be part of the puzzle.
step — like if you open a bottle PEOPLE WHO WORRY ABOUT
of water and it sprays all over the FAKE HUES?
Some scientists think blushing THEIR PUBLIC IMAGE, HAVE
has an even broader social func- LOW SELF-ESTEEM, OR ARE
tion. What might that be? To
get at this question, neuroscien- HIGHLY CONCERNED ABOUT
tists and behavioral psychologists
have studied the nuances of why
people show embarrassment and OF OTHERS ARE MORE
how others respond. One theory

Photo by Dave Shulman



Summer 2018
■ According to the old adage, “Laughter is the best medi- Robin Williams was not alone and psychologists and philoso-
in his struggles, either. Comedi- phers have been debating for
cine” — and who would disagree? Nothing lightens our ans Freddie Prinze, Ray Combs, decades about what makes one
moods and lifts our spirits better than a good belly laugh. Richard Jeni, and Charles Rocket joke shine while another flops.
From simple horseplay among friends to the witticisms of all committed suicide, too. And One thing is clear, though —
beyond these sad endings, nu- laughter is connected to our
the most talented stand-up comedians, making each other merous comedians, including El- sense (and fear) of humiliation.
laugh is a universal human activity — helping people from len DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman, In its most juvenile forms —
Richard Pryor, and Woody Allen, schoolyard teasing or slapstick
every culture on earth cope with the difficulties of life. Sev-
have spoken (or joked) about the pratfalls, for example — it is
eral scientific studies have confirmed that comedy is indeed depression and lack of self-worth very obviously that; we are gig-
good medicine, effectively reducing the stress response, that has haunted them in the past gling watching while someone
or present. For those struggling else is made the fool. Cartoons
bolstering the immune system, and relieving chronic pain. with drug and alcohol addiction, in the style of Looney Tunes and
Why, then, are the lives of comedians so often marked it can be a way of dulling the pain Hanna-Barbera function simi-
that they feel. larly: they are funny because we
by tragedy and sadness? One might think that these folks
One of the earliest psychologi- see Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd,
would be the healthiest people in the world, able to laugh cal studies of comedians, com- and Tom Cat fail miserably to
off all the hardships of living. But instead, the comedy pleted in 1975 by Samuel Janus capture their prey over and over
of New York Medical College, and over again. In real life, these
world is full of people battling demons, and often losing. surveyed 55 full-time, success- predators are on the top of the
When news broke in August 2014 that Robin Williams ful comedians (defined as those food chain, but in these cartoons
making a six-figure salary or they are laid low … and that’s
had killed himself at age 63, the nearly universal response
more). Janus found that 80 per- just funny to watch.
was shock. “How could such a funny man, someone who cent of the comedians had sought More sophisticated comedy
had given so many happy memories to so many, have done psychotherapy at some point has this same element, even if
in their lives. Interestingly, he it may not be as obvious. In
this to himself?” we collectively asked. In the weeks that commented in his article, “They romantic comedies, for example,
followed, a tragic story of a man haunted by a combination repeatedly expressed the fear that the protagonist is continually
of depression, alcoholism, and dementia was added to Wil- if they were successful in analysis, frustrated in his or her efforts to
to the point where their suffering succeed with the desired roman-
liams’ legacy of brilliant comedy. was greatly relieved, they would tic partner. When the connec-
then cease to be funny.” There tion finally happens, the story is
was not only an observable cor- over. Likewise, in typical family-
relation between mental distress focused sitcoms, we often see
and comedy, but the comedians parents, often single parents as
themselves saw this distress as on “One Day at a Time,” “The
integral to their abilities. Andy Griffith Show,” and “Full
When you look at what makes House,” bumbling through the
us laugh, this connection be- process of raising cheeky, preco-
tween humor and psychological cious children. In classic shows
pain makes some sense. Humor that focus on married couples,
can vary drastically by culture, traditional roles are often turned
upside down for humorous ef-
fect. For example, in “I Love
Lucy,” the female protagonist
Lucy repeatedly goes against the
wishes of head-of-the-household
Ricky — trying to start a show-
biz career, buying expensive new
furniture, getting a candy factory
job — only to find embarrass-
ment that sends her back to her
“proper” role of a housewife. In
all these cases, frustration is the
key comedic element.
In stand-up comedy, the same

These same youngsters also Elcha Shain Buckman’s “The
PSYCHOLOGISTS HAVE tend to experience depression Handbook of Humor: Clinical
OBSERVED, THOUGH, and feelings of social isolation;
a study of depressed teens con-
Applications in Psychotherapy”
and Herbert Strean’s “The Use
THAT COMEDIC ABIL- ducted in 1998 and published in
the Journal of Adolescent Research
of Humor in Psychotherapy” are
now classic educational texts.
ITY IS OFTEN DEVEL- observed a definite connection
between comedic ability and
The problem for comedians
(and others) appears to be that,
OPED AS A COPING depression. Furthermore, co- ultimately, jokes alone cannot
MECHANISM IN ADO- medians have IQs much higher
than average — between 110
eliminate the monsters that can
plague our inner lives; some
LESCENCE. THESE and 160, as compared to the
average 100 — which has also
turn to drugs and others to sui-
cide. Laughter may be the best
CHILDREN ARE HIGHLY been associated with depressive
tendencies. Psychologists theo-
medicine, but it isn’t a perfect
medicine. Writing over a cen-
SHY AND SENSITIVE rize that this is true because very tury ago in a 1907 edition of the
TO HUMILIATION, AND intelligent people are simply
more aware and therefore more
still-flourishing The American
Journal of Psychology, L.W. Kline
THEY DEAL WITH THE sensitive to the vicissitudes of
life. And, of course, they have
expressed the purpose of comedy
in these words: “No stimulus,
THREAT OF SOCIAL greater capacity to make a witty
remark in response.
perhaps, more mercifully and
effectually breaks the surface ten-
EMBARRASSMENT In an interview for Time mag- sion of the consciousness, thereby
THROUGH CLOWNISH azine, comedian Jim Norton
remarked in response to Robin
conditioning it for a new forward
movement, than humor.” In the
EXTROVERSION. Williams’ death, “The funniest
people I know seem to be the
end, comedy can’t get rid of all
the sadness we humans hold in-
is true even if no one is act- though, that comedic ability ones surrounded by darkness. side, but at least it can lighten the
ing out the roles; the humilia- is often developed as a coping And that’s probably why they’re load for a little while, so we can
tion here is primarily delivered mechanism in adolescence. the funniest. The deeper the pit, keep on moving forward.
through words. One of the most These children are highly shy the more humor you need to
common types of jokes in this and sensitive to humiliation, and dig yourself out of it.” Comedy,
genre involves self-depreciation, they deal with the threat of social whether we are viewers or the
as when Kevin Hart references embarrassment through clown- makers of it, is a kind of self-
his own diminutive stature, or ish extroversion. Comedians are medicating, a way of seeing the
Phyllis Diller calls herself ugly. also very likely to have come light at the end of dark tunnels.
Other stand-up jokes skewer from difficult socio-economic More and more psychologists
powerful figures, such as those backgrounds or to have experi- have acknowledged its useful-
in the endless stream of Donald enced traumatic childhoods, so ness for both diagnosis and
Trump jokes, or they challenge they know the pain of being a treatment when used deliberate-
social assumptions, conventions, low-ranking social outcast. Con- ly in clinical settings. Books like
and hierarchies, as in the humor sciously or unconsciously, they
of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, decide for themselves, “To avoid
and Dick Gregory. Psychologists being laughed at, I’ll make a fool
refer to this as “benign violations of myself and purposely make
of social norms.” people laugh.” Thusly, they take
Comedians may be good at control of the situation, and the
what they do because they them- class clown is born.
selves are especially well tuned
in to feelings of humiliation.
Psychological studies have found
that comedians tend to be highly
introverted, which might seem
surprising since they make their
living standing in front of audi-
ences and acting silly for a living.
Psychologists have observed,

Summer 2018
TAKING Photo by Toshifumi Hotchi/

Summer 2018
■ The young are our conscience. Lord Byron wrote in the Young people who feel emo-
tionally abandoned or bullied
early 19th century, “when we bid adieu to youth, slaves
OF NOT to the specious world’s control, we sigh a long farewell to
with access to weapons may
act on inner turmoil and rage,
BELONGING truth; that world corrupts the noblest soul.” Regardless of harming themselves or others.
OR BEING the impulsivity of youth, shown in Shakespeare’s Romeo Psychologists Roy Baumeister
of Florida State University and
SCORNED and Juliet killing themselves before considering other op- Mark Leary of Duke University
CREATES tions, Byron’s observation about the clarity of truth in argue that belonging to a group
EMOTIONAL young eyes remains. While the old become corrupted by is a need —not a desire or pref-
erence — and, when thwarted,
FALLOUT power, the young dare to defy it. leads to psychological and physi-
It was the young who rose against the Vietnam War, lead-
SO INTENSE cal illness. Purdue University
psychologist Kipling Williams
ing to its end. Teenagers and young adults led the ill-fated
THAT THE Arab Spring and Tiananmen Square uprisings. Success-
observed that belonging, self-
BRAIN ful boycotts and revolts ended apartheid in South Africa.
esteem, a sense of personal con-
trol, and belief in a meaningful
REGISTERS IT Student demonstrations for gun control following years of existence are the four fundamen-
AS PHYSICAL harrowing school shootings have sparked an awareness in tal psychological needs to func-
tion as social individuals.
PAIN. BRAIN America, perhaps not seen since the anti-Vietnam War and The average American teen-
SCANS CAN civil rights demonstrations. ager spends several hours a day
on social media — seeking to
DETECT Research by neuroimaging expert, professor B.J. Casey at
belong — but where cyberbully-
Yale University, and teams at the Sackler Institute at Cor-
THIS IN THE nell University and the California Institute of Technology
ing and isolation come into play.
Neuroimaging studies reveal
DORSAL has revealed that “Adolescents show adult levels of intellec- that being rejected, based only
ANTERIOR tual capability earlier than they show evidence of adult lev-
on one’s profile pictures, results
in increased activity in the me-
CINGULATE els of impulse control ... Adolescents may make informed dial frontal cortex in adults and
CORTEX — choices about their future (e.g., terminating a pregnancy) children, and also enhanced
pupil dilation and increased
A PART OF but do not yet have full capacity to override impulses in
emotional intensity in adoles-
THE BRAIN emotionally charged situations that require decisions in the cents. A sense of not belonging
heat of the moment.” or being scorned creates emo-
REGION tional fallout so intense that the
Existing research shows that improved cognitive con-
ASSOCIATED trol and emotion regulation with the maturation of the
brain registers it as physical pain.
Brain scans can detect this in the
WITH THE prefrontal cortex, suggest a linear increase in development dorsal anterior cingulate cortex
EMOTIONAL from childhood to adulthood — but this is not the whole — a part of the brain region
associated with the emotional
COMPONENT picture. Casey’s team found that brain imaging studies component of physical pain. Iso-
OF PHYSICAL “suggest an increase in subcortical activation (accumbens lation or aloneness is dangerous
PAIN. and amygdala) when making risky choices and processing for mental health.
The National Vital Statistics
emotional information that is exaggerated in adolescents,
System of the Centers for Dis-
relative to children and adults.” ease Control (CDC) notes that
in 2015, its most recent mor-
tality survey, that 10,186 teen-
agers, aged 15 to 19, died. The
statistical breakdown is that 38.5
percent died in accidents, 20 per-
cent committed suicide, and 15.6
percent died because of assault or
homicide. Note that the CDC
is prohibited from researching
gun violence by the 1996 Dickey

Photo by Eric O. Ledermann/

Amendment, which reads: “none to seek immediate, rather than

of the funds made available for in- long-term, gratification. Even in
jury prevention and control at the comparison to children, aged 7
Centers for Disease Control and to 11, and young adults, aged 23
Prevention (CDC) may be used to to 29, adolescents “showed an
advocate or promote gun control.” exaggerated accumbens response
Alex Gaffney of auditor Price- in anticipation of reward.”
waterhouseCoopers, however, Working with, or perhaps
looked at the CDC data and against, this are the increased
found that on average 2,300 hormonal charges of adoles-
teenagers were killed by fire- cence. Casey and her team note
arms each year, from 2010 to that, “elevated risk-taking be-
2016, in the United States. In havior appears to occur across
2016, guns killed more high species and have important
school students, aged 15 to 19, adaptive functions. The increase
than cancer, heart disease, and in emotional reactivity during
diabetes combined (the first two this period may allow adoles-
are among the top five causes of cents to be more vigilant and
adolescent death). Globally, over aware of threat, to ensure their
3,000 adolescents die each day survival as they move from a safe
— 1.2 million a year — from environment to a novel one.”
preventable causes, according to Eveline Crone and Elly Koni-
the World Health Organization. jn writing in Nature Communi-
Casey and her colleagues cations about their neuroimaging
found that for adolescents in research into adolescents and FOR ADOLESCENTS IN
emotionally charged situations, social media note that the teen EMOTIONALLY CHARGED
the more mature limbic system years are a time when white
wins over the prefrontal control matter connections increase al-
system. “When a poor decision lowing better communication MATURE LIMBIC SYSTEM
is made in an emotional context, between different areas of the
the adolescent may know better, brain. “Changes in gray mat-
but the salience of the emo- ter volume are observed … in CONTROL SYSTEM. WITH
tional context biases his or her brain regions that are important
behavior in the opposite direc- for social understanding and
tion of the optimal action,” says communication such as the me- CALLED BEHAVIORAL
Casey. Several research studies
have found peaks in dopamine
dial prefrontal cortex, superior
temporal cortex, and temporal
expression during adolescence parietal junction.” AND A HEIGHTENED
with dopamine receptor expres-
sion highest in the nucleus ac-
There is some evidence, how-
ever, that some young people
cumbens — a part of the brain’s have a more significant predis- “REWARD” AREAS OF
“reward system” — during early
adolescence. With immaturity
position to risk-taking or dan-
gerous behavior than others,
in the so-called behavioral con- but the exact why has yet to be TEND TO SEEK IMMEDIATE,
trol areas and a heightened re-
sponsiveness in the “reward”
While young people may be
areas of the brain, teenagers tend braver than adults in speaking GRATIFICATION.
out or acting up, neuroscience
shows that they don’t always
understand the consequences of
actions. Adults do. Perhaps we
need to become better at listen-
ing, helping, and supporting.

Summer 2018


■ Imagine this for a moment: It’s the afternoon of Feb-
ruary 6, 2018, and you just watched the SpaceX Falcon

Heavy rocket successfully launch into space. With it was
Elon Musk’s signature in the form of a red Tesla Roadster
aboard the rocket. Two things stood out about this launch.
First, Elon Musk broke barriers (literally), as the Falcon
Heavy is now the most powerful spacecraft in operation
and among the highest-capacity rockets ever built. It’s also
worth mentioning that it’s the first time a consumer car
has left this atmosphere, and it was equipped with cameras
that provided views of Earth against the backdrop of space.
Secondly, there’s a growing group of people who think the
BY LAUREN MIGLIORE entire launch was a conspiracy … wait, what?!

They’re known as The Flat Earth Society and as their
name suggests, they believe the Earth is a flat disk. They
released a statement following the rocket launch that read,
“People who believe that the Earth is a globe because ‘they
saw a car in space on the internet’ must be the new incarna-
tion of ‘It’s true, I saw it on TV!’ It’s a poor argument.”
Are they serious? Hard to say. theory. I can, however, explain
But upon looking further into a glimpse into how the brain is
The Flat Earth Society, they influenced by certain appeals,
believe the North Pole is at the while other times we hold tight
center of this Earth pancake and to our existing beliefs. It may not
the edge is protected by an ice change your mind if you believe
wall (also known as, Antarctica). in a flat earth, but it could help
They write off more than 2,000 detail what will.
years of scientific observation Data and facts never meant
and evidence, and their society much to me until I was sitting in
has grown by about 200 people my first cognitive neuroscience
per year. Some celebrities, in- course as a psychology major.
cluding NBA star Kyrie Irving Instead of Freudian theories and
and rapper B.o.B, commit to assumptions, the evidence and
this misguided belief and rejec- data that accompanied neurosci-
tion of science. It doesn’t make ence was like a tidy and orga-
sense, right? (How can this pos- nized set of answers. It resonated
sibly make sense?) with my Type A personality and
If it seems that facts, data, and rule-following tendencies. But
evidence are falling flat (pun in- as it turns out, facts and figures
tended) in the face of influence, aren’t what influence people.
that’s because they do. Similar Even in our current digital era
to those skeptical of climate with a tsunami of information
change, vaccination-linked au- at our fingertips, powerful ana-
tism, or even Obama’s U.S. citi- lytic tools, and 2.5 billion giga-
zenship, facts are not enough to bytes of data produced per day,
change beliefs or opinions that it still falls short when it comes
are already set. I can’t tell you to changing minds. The mind is
why some want to ignite a Flat- not easily swayed.
Earthapalooza debate, or what Neuroscientist and author Tali
they have to gain from pouring Sharot may have explained it
their energy into this specific best: accessibility to data is the

Summer 2018
product of the last few decades, as they originally assumed. The a single truth for anything be-
WHEN YOU while the brains we are attempt- other group received opposite cause we will generally manipu-
PROVIDE ing to influence are the prod- news — they were told that after late information to preserve our
uct of millions of decades. The reassessing data, scientists realized self-interests and strengthen our
SOMEONE problem with making decisions climate change was far worse than existing biases.
WITH NEW through an approach that priori- previously assumed, suggesting a The tendency to cherry-pick
tizes information and logic is that temperature increase of 7 to 11 and interpret new evidence that
DATA, THEY it ignores the core of what makes degrees. The volunteers were then confirms our personal views
ARE QUICK us human: our motives, fears, asked if they would like to pro- is something we are all guilty
hopes, desires — essentially, our vide a new personal estimate for of. In fact, being intelligent
TO ACCEPT emotions. Because of this, estab- the likely temperature rise. and informed can often make
lished beliefs can be extremely Sharot found that people ad- the problem worse. The higher
EVIDENCE THAT resistant to change, even when justed their estimates only if someone’s IQ and analytical
CONFIRMS scientific evidence is provided to the new information fit their abilities, the better they are at
undermine those beliefs (cough original beliefs. Climate change twisting data to support a posi-
THEIR PRIOR cough, flat earth, cough). nonbelievers were influenced by tion — but only a position they
BELIEFS. In fact, information tends to the news that the situation was already agree with. Yale profes-
polarize opinions even further, better than previously thought sor and researcher Dan Kahan
WHEN THOSE especially when it comes to is- and their estimate dropped by demonstrated this in a study that
BELIEFS ARE sues people are passionate about, about 1 degree. However, news tested people’s ability to view
such as abortion, same-sex mar- that climate change was worse data and facts objectively given
CHALLENGED, riage, politics, gun control, and had no impact on their esti- their political beliefs.
PEOPLE DIG the like. Sharot tested this by mates. Strong believers showed In the experiment, a random
asking a group of volunteers the exact opposite pattern. They sample of individuals with vary-
THEIR HEELS about their opinions regarding were less persuaded by news that ing political beliefs were given
climate change: “Do you believe climate change was not as dire, two data sets. The first was on
IN AND HOLD that man-made climate change yet heavily influenced that the various skin creams and their
TO AN EVEN is happening, and do you sup- situation could be worse. ability to reduce rashes. The sec-
port efforts to reduce greenhouse When you provide someone ond set showed crime statistics in
STRONGER gas emissions?” Based on your with new data, they are quick various cities and whether these
OPINION THAN answer, you were assigned to one to accept evidence that confirms cities would benefit from a law
of two groups: “weak” believers their prior beliefs. When those that banned private citizens from
BEFORE. of man-made climate change beliefs are challenged, people dig carrying concealed handguns in
and “strong” believers. Sharot their heels in and hold to an even public. The participants had to
then informed both groups that stronger opinion than before. use quantitative skills to solve
climate scientists estimate that We also engage in motivated each of these problems. Herein
the average global temperature reasoning to defend our beliefs lies the issue: the exact same set
would rise by approximately 6 by discarding inconvenient facts of numbers was used in each
degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, and and using data subjectively. And scenario. The only thing that
asked them to write down their in today’s society, the ease by changed across the two data sets
own estimates of the likely tem- which we can Google evidence was the topic being analyzed.
perature rise by 2100. to do this is unlike anything Participants were easily able to
Following their estimates, one we’ve seen before. We’re able to analyze the numbers rationally
of the groups was informed that easily discredit any opinion to and solve the skin cream prob-
in recent weeks, scientists had support our own with the power lem, but not the one for gun
reassessed the data and concluded of the internet. In 0.45 seconds, control. In case you missed it, I’ll
that the situation was not as dire Google produced 17.9 million say it again: the data sets for each
results about the negative health scenario were absolutely identi-
effects of dark chocolate. Want cal. But because the gun control
to make an argument for the problem is a topic that elicits
contrary? No problem, it only strong opinions and biases, it
took 0.56 seconds to come up tainted the participants’ ability
with 23.8 million items support- to analyze objectively.
ing the health benefits of dark
chocolate. With an overload
of information out there, this
makes it impossible to agree on

We like to think we’re fairly humans, we’re emotional crea- of influence, but it also helps
rational and sensible beings. So tures. Just try to watch one epi- communicate ideas in a way that
then why do we tend to sub- sode of NBC’s “This Is Us” and others are able to imagine that ING RESULTS
consciously discount conflicting try not to get emotional. (Nearly specific point of view.
data and skew information in impossible.) From a scientific When it comes to influencing
our favor? In the old days (before standpoint, emotions are a phys- others or being influenced our- THAT IN THE
Google and modern-day tools), iological reaction to external selves — awareness and emotion
the brain evolved to evaluate events or internal thoughts. The is key. Understanding why we are BRAIN, PARTS
information in relation to what brain uses them to alert us about the way we are, how we feel about INVOLVED IN
we already believed, as a way to a situation or environment we’re a certain situation, as well as our
help us make decisions quickly. in. But from a social perspec- deep-rooted life experiences can LOGIC AND
Certain pre-existing beliefs also tive, emotions are one of the help us to pause and re-evaluate.
become part of our identity and strongest ways we impact and So, let down your guard.
ideology. When these are threat- communicate with one another, Consider if there’s merit in the TAKE A BACK
ened, it can feel like our identity as well as garner attention. opposing views, and if you un-
is being threatened. When someone has a message derstand someone else’s view-
Neuroimaging results have to convey, emotion is the quickest point — or more importantly, IT COMES TO
shown that in the brain, parts ways to engage an audience. Ap- the feelings that accompany it.
involved in logic and reasoning ple does a perfect job at utilizing When you are the one trying to ANALYZING
take a back seat when it comes emotions to create a connection influence, think about how you NEW INFORMA-
to analyzing new information. with their consumers. If you’ve can reframe your information
Instead, areas that are known for ever watched an iPhone commer- to find commonalities, instead TION. INSTEAD,
processing emotions and con- cial, at no point do they merely of differences. And if you can AREAS THAT
flicts — the orbitofrontal cortex list off the stats and specs of the — you’ll find it induces less re-
and anterior cingulate cortex — product. Instead, Apple creates sistance and more effectiveness. ARE KNOWN
light up with activity. Research- commercials that appeal to our There is still a lot of research
ers have also found that when basic emotional need of wanting to be done to fully uncover and
people receive information that to be part of something bigger. understand the various appeals of ING EMOTIONS
does not fit with their earlier They also brand themselves as a influences on the brain. But the
beliefs, their brains almost “shut platform through which you can knowledge we do have is begin-
down” in a way and neuronal unleash your creativity and be ning to help us parse how certain — THE ORBI-
responses reduce. part of a technological revolution influences activate the brain’s re-
What then, if anything, can — and it works. ward system and neural pathways. TOFRONTAL
we do to evolve stubborn be- In the corridors of the brain, We all have differences, per- CORTEX AND
liefs and opinions? How do we emotion creates synchroniza- sonality quirks, and our own in-
illicit change? tion, which causes us to react in dividual upbringings that make ANTERIOR CIN-
Sharot explains that to suc- similar ways to emotion-eliciting us unique. But sometimes we
cessfully elicit change, we need stimuli. Your amygdala — the tend to focus on that, and we
to identify with common moti- region in your brain important forget that our brains are actu- TEX — LIGHT UP
vations and consider the other for signaling arousal — is ac- ally organized very similarly.
person’s mind. Beliefs and opin- tivated, and it prompts people Our reactions to experiences
ions are usually intertwined with to act and view the world in a and stimuli tend to mirror each
our identity — how we grew up, similar way. Politicians know other, and that’s what makes it
experiences that have shaped our this, and it’s why they aim to use easier to communicate our ideas,
outlook, religion, politics, etc. emotion when campaigning and express our feelings, and navi-
By identifying with common speaking to their audiences. Ac- gate through life’s challenges.
goals and relating to emotions cording to researchers, emotion
instead of resorting to logic, we creates a connection between the
have a better chance of getting speaker and the listener, making
our message across to someone. it more likely that the listener
When we argue about the facts will process incoming informa-
of an issue, rarely is it about the tion in a similar manner to how
facts at all; it’s more so a dispute the speaker sees it. Not only
over values that don’t align with does it increase the likelihood
our own and our emotions em-
bedded with those values.
It goes without saying that as

Summer 2018
The #NeverAgain movement has been met locks your working memory — it’s the reason
The Brain’s with praise as well as scorn — with many of its
detractors saying that the younger protesters
you never forget how to drive or ride a bike.
The frontal lobe’s anterior cingulate cortex

Powerhouse are too young to understand the arguments or

causes they’re taking up. This may be true for
some, as the connections in the brain between
(ACC) is also involved in weighing routine
decisions — it’s the part of the brain that
anticipates reward, and is connected with
the amygdala and the frontal lobe are just be- the frontal eye fields and motor system. This
ginning to strengthen. It is a transitional time is also the part involved in regulating emo-
between relying on the emotional brain, while tions — both our own and recognizing the
recognizing the capacity for deeper thought. emotions in others. Functional MRI studies
“High school kids are able to do more have shown that the ACC became more ac-
BRAIN IN FOCUS: abstract thinking than ever before in their tive when patients were shown video clips
THE FRONTAL LOBE lives,” says Dr. Gene Beresin, a professor of of people grieving. The ACC is also what
By James Sullivan psychiatry at Harvard University. “They can helps us determine the appropriate response
think about justice and altruism and fairness based on the information our brain processes
and rights and duties and responsibilities. — think of it as an abbreviation for the so-
■ On Valentine’s Day, 2018, tragedy They are really grappling with these things, called common-sense filter.
struck. A lone assailant, carrying a and in past years they couldn’t do that. They The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) portion of
can look at complexities and nuances they the frontal lobe evaluates the significance of
backpack and a duffel bag entered the never could before.” Their frontal lobe is potential rewards — acting as a second opin-
hallways of his former high school just coming into focus — it develops later ion for whether or not you should eat that slice
and opened fire — killing 17 people than nearly the rest of our brain and yet its of cake. It also monitors ongoing behavior —
properties will likely diminish the earliest, it’s why you second guess how you’re doing at
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
but perhaps tackling complex social issues is any given moment at a party, or can never be
School. While not the worst, the hor- a good way to help it reach its full potential. too sure how your yearly performance review
rific episode ranks as one of the world’s will go. The OFC also allows you to revisit
PUT IN PERSPECTIVE emotional experiences in the past — allowing
deadliest school shootings. What
It’s the largest, and perhaps best-known, lobe you to relate when your friend loses a grand-
comes in the aftermath has seemed al- of the brain — one of four regions making parent or has a terminally ill parent.
most too commonplace — politicians up the cerebrum. Altogether, it makes up The frontal lobe actually contains the
one-third of the entire organ. You might even most dopamine-sensitive receptors of any
of both sides argue about possible gun
say it’s the part with the most personality. part of the brain — so behaviors can be
control laws and Second Amendment We use it when we recall episodic memories learned and rewarded quickly. These cortices
rights until the news cycle changes. — events that stand out from childhood, as all work together to form what we like to
Things didn’t quite go back to normal well as the proud and/or embarrassing ones refer to as the conscience — we filter out
that have come to define us. The dorsolateral socially unacceptable behaviors and weigh
— as a wave of protesters took to social prefrontal cortex portion of the frontal lobe out the potential rewards of our actions. In
media and to the streets — many of is responsible for executive decision-making: each situation, the brain gives us sensory
them students who demanded stricter making plans, solving problems, giving you information that we process — the frontal
the capacity for abstract thought, and allow- lobe enables us to take the information and
gun control laws and saw activism as ing an individual to think about multiple envision ourselves taking a course of action
the only way things could be changed. subjects simultaneously. This cortex also un- before we act — imagining the possible con-
sequences depending on which path we take.
THE FRONTAL LOBE ENABLES US TO Even spontaneity is a function of the frontal
lobe, allowing us to think on our feet.
OURSELVES TAKING A COURSE OF While the frontal lobe seems to be a power-
ACTION BEFORE WE ACT — IMAGINING house to so much of our mental faculties, it
is also vulnerable to a number of disorders
THE POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES — a whole host of symptoms not fully un-
DEPENDING ON WHICH PATH WE TAKE. derstood occur here due to lesions — more
often than in any other part of the brain.
EVEN SPONTANEITY IS A FUNCTION OF Difficulty in information feedback has been
observed, which has been attributed to
THE FRONTAL LOBE, ALLOWING US TO greater risk-taking than normal. Left frontal
THINK ON OUR FEET. lesions have been known to impair the abil-

ity to recognize and use fewer spoken words that looked at the prefrontal cortex of the size, realized that they might be able to pre-
as well as fewer facial gestures. Those with frontal lobe, the connected ventral striatum, dict one or the other. This is a significant find
lesions on the right frontal lobe tended to which responds to positive stimuli like as the symptoms of both tend to overlap.
use both verbal language and facial move- pleasant scenes or faces, and the amygdala, High prefrontal cortex activity suggested
ments to excess. Even when patients make an almond-shaped portion of the brain in that people were less likely to suffer from
a successful recovery from traumatic brain the temporal lobe that recognizes sensory anxiety, while high activity in the amygdala,
injury, it’s not uncommon to have difficulty input and assigns emotions to it. While most and low reward-related activity in the ventral
concentrating or remembering things as well of these regions are consistently similar in striatum were both markers that the patient
as they once did. ordinary people, activity in each one is not would suffer from worsening anxiety over
In the wake of tragedies such as Stoneman always consistent — particularly in people the next six months. As the participants, all
Douglas, the shooter’s mental health often suffering with anxiety or depression. college students, were not asked to regulate
comes up in debate, though little is changed In their first task, the test subjects played a their emotions during any of the assessments,
to make psychological help more readily avail- guessing game — they were presented with a the activity could potentially gauge how the
able to people who might commit violent playing card and asked if the card would be brain functions on a number of tasks.
crimes. While legislation may have a ways to higher or lower than five. If they guessed cor- There are still a number of unanswered
go, modern medicine may be on the verge of rectly, the researchers told them they would questions — and Scult is currently perform-
breakthroughs that could help to relieve some win $10 at the end of the game. The ventral ing follow-up studies with people in different
of the stigma of mental illness and also make striatum became active when the partici- age groups to get a larger sample. At present,
it easier to explore options for treatment. pants were informed that they had guessed psychotherapy as well as magnets directly
Matthew Scult and fellow researchers at correctly. The second task activated the stimulating brain waves are being looked
Duke University are working on one such amygdala — subjects had to look at pictures at as two options. (Using electromagnetic
breakthrough. They are currently in the early of faces expressing fear and anger. Lastly, par- waves to stimulate nerve cells in the brain
stages of creating a noninvasive physical test ticipants were given two sets of mathemati- is already being used to treat cases of severe
to diagnose known mental disorders, one cal problems — solving simple calculations depression.) A question to further explore is
that you could get as routinely as you have on a computer screen and another set from how to increase prefrontal cortex activity in
your blood pressure checked. To know what memory, activating the prefrontal cortex. people at risk of developing anxiety. Mindful
sort of “biomarkers” to look for, Scult’s team Scult initially hoped to use all three pat- meditation — bringing the mind to reflect
looked at brain-activity patterns related to terns put together as a biomarker that would on the present moment — may be effective
depression and post-traumatic stress disor- predict depression and anxiety in his patients, in activating the prefrontal cortex and reliev-
der. They performed a series of fMRI scans but after gathering a large enough sample ing more mild symptoms of anxiety.

Summer 2018
But in all seriousness, how come marriage, mental reality that emotions change over
Love and one of the most ubiquitous social institu-
tions in the modern world, is so difficult to
time. These individuals consider emotion to
be deeply important and honest. They may
Emotion maintain? Are human beings simply flawed
when it comes to lifelong commitment?
trust their emotions to guide them beyond
logic and understanding. Unfortunately, we
Should we continue to believe in the impor- know that emotion is not necessarily a wise
tance of marriage, or is it a vestigial social teacher. Following the romantic notion that
appendage from past eras? How come so feelings should be taken as our guide insures
many people who sincerely tie the knot end that we will find it difficult to create stable
up cutting the cord (on average about eight and resilient relationships.
years after getting married)? And regardless Interestingly, while the one word “love”
CAN YOU HAVE ONE of your philosophy on marriage, is it possible can and does refer to a wide variety of ex-
WITHOUT THE OTHER? to increase your chances of sustaining a lov- periences, the ancient Greeks had different
By David Driscoll ing relationship in the long run? words for various kinds of love. “Eros” refers
Falling in love is undoubtedly an emo- to sexual passion or desire, the kind of love
tional experience. Falling out of love can be that we would relate most closely with lust.
■ According to the Centers for Dis- highly emotional as well, but in a different There’s also “philia” — a friendly love —
ease Control and Prevention, the di- way. Some people fall in love again and again, familiar to you perhaps because of the name
attracted to one partner after another. Others Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
vorce rate for first marriages is around are hopelessly lovestruck in the beginning “Storge” refers to the love between parents
50 percent. For those who remarry, only to discover that the feeling fades over and children, or in other natural familial
do things tend to work out better the time, leaving a troubling lack of emotional relationships. And “agape” refers to a widely
connection. And while philosophical differ- beneficial love based on principles of univer-
second time around? Unfortunately,
ences sometimes contribute to the end of a sality and faithfulness.
the answer is apparently no. Second relationship, more often the breakup is due to Emotion plays a part in all of these types
marriages end in divorce around two- fluctuating emotions. The power of emotion of love, but it is treated differently in each.
thirds of the time, and for third mar- is a double-edged sword. For many people Generally, the more likely it is for emotion
it is the reason a relationship starts and the to dominate our consciousness, the less
riages the divorce rate is around 75 reason it ends. Are we destined to be slaves to healthy and ideal is the form of love. Eros,
percent. Statistics weren’t available for the changing tides of emotion? for example, is a natural and healthy form of
fourth and fifth marriages, but you can Some people seem to find it easiest to love, but easily dominated by the emotional
ignore emotion altogether. These individu- experience. Therefore the Greeks deemed
guess by the trend that they’re prob- als approach relationships logically. They eros less desirable, and in some ways more
ably not built to last either. might be seen as cold, calculating, and dangerous, than other kinds of love. Storge
distant; in short, not everyone’s cup of tea and philia are also healthy and even beauti-
when it comes to a relationship. And while ful loves, but they can be prone to emotional
this approach prevents certain emotional attachment. Agape — the highest form of
difficulties, it obviously can lead to others. universal love, is characterized by the fact
Being logical does not in and of itself ensure that, while it stirs strong emotions, is also
a lasting relationship. essentially transcends our personal emotions.
Those who give too much attention to Neuroscience also suggests that there is a
emotion, however, suffer from the funda- complicated relationship between love and
emotion. Darby Saxbe, Ph.D., an assistant
professor of psychology at the University
WHILE THE ONE WORD “LOVE” CAN AND of Southern California, writes about what
DOES REFER TO A WIDE VARIETY OF happens when stress hormones sync up be-
EXPERIENCES, THE ANCIENT GREEKS HAD tween partners. She states that couples with
more synchronicity tend to have less stable
DIFFERENT WORDS FOR VARIOUS KINDS and lasting relationships. In laymen’s terms,
OF LOVE … EMOTION PLAYS A PART IN couples that “tune in” excessively to each
ALL OF THESE TYPES OF LOVE, BUT IT IS other’s emotions have a harder time main-
taining their relationships. This could be
TREATED DIFFERENTLY IN EACH. GENERALLY, because stress is amplified when one person
THE MORE LIKELY IT IS FOR EMOTION TO feels and reacts to the emotional stress of his
or her partner.
DOMINATE OUR CONSCIOUSNESS, THE LESS Other studies, however, emphasize the
HEALTHY AND IDEAL IS THE FORM OF LOVE. value of emotional synchronicity in healthy

relationships. Karen Nikos-Rose of the often manifesting along with powerful emo- with conviction. When people choose to
University of California, Davis writes that tions, is not fundamentally just an emotional trust and love each other regardless of the
couples whose emotions are out of sync for experience. It is an example of consciousness, obstacles that may arise, they are putting
more than a few days are more likely to break truth, and will. into practice an ancient form of wisdom.
up than those who “ride the waves” of emo- The Greek agape suggests the nature of Perhaps you’ve heard such wisdom from
tion together, even during the down times. love that is “beyond” emotion. Someone elderly couples who explain how they stayed
What gives? Is it better to be in sync — or who demonstrates agape displays a love for together throughout the years. Sometimes
out of sync — with our partner’s emotions? all human beings equally — rather than they say it was easy — that they feel the
As the Greek words for love suggest, stability conditionally according to someone’s physi- same emotion as the day the met. But more
and long-lasting love may not be the result cal, familial, emotional or social form. To often they report that love took work, each
merely of being in sync or out of sync with achieve such a love requires great patience, and every day. The love that grows out of
each other’s emotions. Rather, it could be understanding, and will power. It requires our sustained choice and effort is, although
the result of having the power to love be- a sensitivity to emotion, yes, but also the perhaps less glamorous on the surface, all the
yond emotion. ability to choose love — in spite of emotion. more beautiful and fulfilling in its depth and
In the Taoist yoga tradition that I teach Because in every relationship there will be resiliency. So enjoy the ups and downs of
we often say, “My emotions are not me, times when our emotions are in conflict. emotion in your relationships, and choose to
they are mine.” Emotions, like thinking, are So rather than love being the result of love whenever you can.
something that we cannot help but experi- emotion, lasting love must have the power
ence while we have a body and brain. They to observe and redirect emotion. This power
are not, however, the true essence of what we comes from having an awakened conscious-
are. Emotions pass just like all phenomena of ness that can “watch” the thoughts and
the body. Our soul, true self, or essence is be- feelings that the mind creates. It can also
yond emotion. I would argue that love, while develop through the power of a choice made

Summer 2018
We live in a world where everything hap- and not concentrating on the current task.
Mending pens at a fast pace. With a few clicks you
can request an Uber, book a restaurant, read
This creates a cost on your performance. To
perform better you need to disengage from
Mindless emails, or buy groceries. We’ve also become
impatient and expect things to happen much
the first task. You need to close the chapter to
move on to the next, so to speak.
Multitasking faster. Waiting in line feels excruciating slow, The multitasking also leads to the feeling

and Daily so we jump from line to line. Or push the

elevator button multiple times, as if it will
that nothing is ever finally completed. In a
study of what makes people feel happy at
Brain Drains make it come sooner. Or check our emails
while waiting for dinner to heat up in the
work by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Univer-
sity, she reviewed 1,200 journal entries about
microwave or brushing our teeth. people’s feelings about work. She found that
The very technology that enables us such getting something done — for example
ease and convenience also creates stress. Our solving a problem or finalizing that report
By Jane Piper smartphones are a constant interruption. — made work satisfying. That’s the buzz of
They flash, beep, tweet, alert, and even occa- having made some progress. With multitask-
sionally ring — demanding our attention in- ing it is much harder to feel that anything is
It’s not mind over matter, but what is stantly. The constant interruptions take away ever really completed.
on your mind that matters. our attention and focus. A surprisingly short The 24/7 “always on” style of work con-
interruption of checking an alert takes up to tributes to the feeling of being wired. Our
OVERWHELMED 25 minutes to get back into concentrating mental energy is limited and requires time
AND OVERCONNECTED on a task, according to research from Gloria to refresh through sleep and a break. Taking
■ It can feel like you are too busy to Mark at the University of California, Irvine. five minutes here and there over the evening
It means we are often multitasking without or weekend to check emails means that work
think. Your head is full and in the fran- even noticing it. Jumping from one email to a is always on your mind. The time those work
tic rush between meetings, answer- text message, then to a call without ever con- thoughts stay on your mind is much more
ing emails, and finishing things just centrating fully on any of them: doing too time than the physical time it took to read
many things at once and none of them prop- and respond to the email. The brain then has
before the deadline you react without erly. Multitasking divides our attention and less time to refresh and recharge for the next
thinking, usually resulting in subpar focus, lowering performance on all the tasks. day — lowering performance.
decisions that in the end take more We feel busy and productive but beware — it The high level of stress associated with
is a trap. To perform well on a task requires our hectic lifestyles has a negative impact
time. In the frenetic haste it seems like focus and attention on one task at a time. on our mental performance. A little stress
your mind is scrambling to keep up. The security and convenience of having a can sharpen thinking, but too much limits
Technology and the general speed of smartphone with you 24/7 means you can be performance on cognitive tasks. The most
connected to the world at any time. It also al- advanced part of our brain, the prefrontal
the world contribute to a feeling of
lows you to be connected to your work 24/7. cortex, is most negatively impacted by stress.
being out of control. It doesn’t have to The boundaries between work and nonwork As research published in the Journal of Cogni-
feel like this, if you learn to focus your become much more blurred. With a smart- tive Neuroscience by Sandra Ackermann and
mental energy. phone your work can be right there in your per- colleagues has shown, a stressed brain is less
sonal time and space, like it never was before. effective in processing information, solving
problems, and more likely to forget things.
ONE OF THE REASONS OVERWIRED BRAINS While we live in this fast-paced, 24/7
DISTRACTIONS AND The frantic pace, constant interruptions, world, you still have the choice as to how
MULTITASKING LEAD TO and multitasking leads to a state where our you respond to it. If you want your brain to
LOWERED PERFORMANCE brains are constantly semidistracted and agi- perform better, you need to take control. Give
IS “ATTENTION tated from juggling too many tasks at once. yourself time to focus and concentrate, and
RESIDUE.” ATTENTION Our performance and productivity improve then allow yourself time to rest and refresh.
RESIDUE IS WHEN THE when we focus deeply on one task, or a series
PREVIOUS TASK IS of similar tasks, calmly one after the other. Jane Piper is a registered psychologist and is
HANGING AROUND IN One of the reasons distractions and multi- the author of “Focus in the Age of Distrac-
THE BACK OF YOUR tasking lead to lowered performance is “atten- tion” (Panoma Press). She has over 20 years
MIND. IT IS THE FEELING tion residue.” Attention residue is when the of experience working with individuals and
THAT YOU HAVE THAT previous task is hanging around in the back small and medium-sized enterprises. Three
YOU HAVEN’T QUITE of your mind. It is the feeling that you have years ago she set up her own company, Pipsy,
FINISHED SOMETHING that you haven’t quite finished something or and consults to organizations on people man-
OR YOU’VE FORGOTTEN you’ve forgotten something. It is your un- agement and coaches people on careers and
SOMETHING. conscious brain still working on the last task, stress management.

Six Tips To Stop Brain Drains
By understanding your brain smarter. You don’t have to re- mental energy like planning anytime. Create a boundary
there are some simple things spond instantly to every alert a project, reviewing the cases between work and nonwork
that you can do to stop the that comes on your phone, for a legal brief, or writing a time. For example, decide to
overwired and out-of-control especially those from more report. During this time don’t work for a few hours Sunday
feeling: “infotainment” channels like check emails or alerts. Review evening rather than five to
Facebook, Twitter, and the like. your emails during one block 10 minutes here and there
1. STOP MINDLESSLY Turn off push notifications of time three to four times a throughout the whole week-
MULTITASKING and alerts. You decide when day so you are not switching end. Think about the physi-
You’ll be more productive and you want to review your so- from deep work to reactive cal space that you take your
creative if you focus on one cial media. If you really want work. phone in your home. Create
task at a time. A quick shift some uninterrupted time then some spaces that are a sanc-
of your attention takes lon- put your phone into do not 4. CLOSE THE CHAPTER tuary from work, like the bed-
ger than you think to regain disturb or airplane mode. You Wrap up what you were work- room, the bathroom, or a liv-
concentration and focus. It is might be surprised to find ing on nicely. Write it down ing room.
too easy to get distracted and that the world doesn’t stop what you completed and note
interrupted and then realize even though you were not what needs are next steps. It 6. SIZE UP STRESS
that you are multitasking. Feel connected for an hour. helps avoid attention residue The overwired, stressed brain
the buzz of progress when and contributes to that buzz is not the most productive
you get a job done. 3. CHUNK YOUR WORK of progress. and creative. Look at what
Organize your work in chunks is causing you stress — over-
2. DEAL WITH DIGITAL of time about the time of your 5. CREATE BOUNDARIES committed, long hours with
DISTRACTION attention span (20 to 50 min- Prevent home invasion by no time to unwind. Deal with
Take control of your smart- utes). Work on a block of work, your smartphone. You don’t your stress and you’ll perform
phone, so you can work the sort of task that requires have to work everywhere and better.

Summer 2018


by Isabel Pastor Guzman

■ Antonio Damasio is a neurologist and a neuroscientist. He

is the neuroscience chair, professor of psychology, philosophy,
and neurology, and the director of the Brain and Creativity
Institute at the University of Southern California in Los
Angeles. He is the recipient of many awards, a member of the
National Academy of Medicine, and a fellow of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Bavarian Academy of
Sciences, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
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Summer 2018
Brain World: Tell us about your BW: Why are emotions so impor-
“CULTURES” AND DIFFERENT latest book. tant when it comes to studying
ARRANGEMENTS SUCH AS Antonio Damasio: My latest the mind?
book, “The Strange Order of AD: Feelings and emotions
MORAL SYSTEMS, Things,” is fundamentally about are fundamental to what we
GOVERNANCE, JUSTICE the processes of life, about what are. They are very basic reac-
it means to be living, and about tions of living organisms — not
SYSTEMS, TECHNOLOGY, how we can regulate our lives so only human beings, but other
SCIENCE, THE ARTS — ALL OF that we can live normally and be
complete human beings.
living organisms as well. We
react to what is around us with
THESE INVENTIONS WERE One of the main aspects of emotions, with certain move-
the book is that it explains the ments or attitudes of our bodies
MOTIVATED BY FEELINGS. IF IT process of “feeling.” It explains that signify that we are either
HADN’T BEEN FOR THE FACT the fact that in the middle of threatened and need to defend
all the different processes of our ourselves — that’s what occurs
THAT HUMAN BEINGS ARE mind, such as perception and with emotions such as fear —
USUALLY EITHER IN A STATE OF reasoning, there is something or that we feel positively about
very important which relates the things that are around us
WELL-BEING, OR IN A STATE OF directly to how our life is be- — which would be expressed by
PAIN OR SUFFERING, WE ing lived by our living organ- emotions such as joy. Other ba-
ism, and that is feeling. The sic emotions include anger for
WOULD NOT HAVE INVENTED main point of the book is that example, which is used for our
“cultures” and different arrange- protection, or sadness, which
ANYTHING. ments such as moral systems, happens when we are in states
Damasio has extensively pub- governance, justice systems, of loss.
lished on a wide variety of top- technology, science, the arts — Those are all fundamental
ics related to specific aspects all of these inventions were mo- reactions. They are also very
of the human mind, such as tivated by feelings. If it hadn’t old, and not only human, they
how we perceive things, how been for the fact that human come from a long history of liv-
we communicate and process beings are usually either in a ing creatures. All those reactions
language, and — perhaps most state of well-being, or in a state are experienced in our bodies.
importantly — how our emo- of pain or suffering, we would Our body changes when we are
tions are produced in the human not have invented anything. So having an emotion. We also ex-
mind and how we experience the point that my book is mak- perience in our mind what is go-
those emotions in our bodies. ing is that in order to invent ing on in our bodies, and that’s
Damasio has made seminal con- cultures, we had to have a very what we call “feelings.” In other
tributions to our understanding basic motivation to get rid of words, feelings are our mental
of consciousness, our awareness pain or suffering, or to aspire to experiences of the states that we
of our experiences, and our ca- a state of well-being and hap- have in our living bodies.
pacity to observe ourselves. His piness, which we can describe
most recent book, “The Strange generally as pleasure. Without BW: How do you explain this
Order of Things: Life, Feeling, that, we wouldn’t have a reason mind-body relationship from a
and The Making of Cultures,” to invent anything. scientific standpoint?
is the culmination of decades of AD: We humans are living or-
research and an effort to identify ganisms, and so are many oth-
the source of all human creations er creatures that we recognize
— our feelings. around us. But even creatures
that we do not see, such as mi-
crobes and bacteria, are also
living. Now, only some of those
creatures have minds, and the
ones that have the possibility of
having minds, have minds be-
cause they have nervous systems.
You can call them in very general
terms, brains, but some nervous
systems are far simpler than our

brains. The point is that in order
to have a mind, in my perspec-
tive, you need to have a nervous TO WHAT WE ARE. THEY ARE VERY BASIC
system. And when you start
having nervous systems in the REACTIONS OF LIVING ORGANISMS — NOT ONLY
course of evolution, then you HUMAN BEINGS, BUT OTHER LIVING ORGANISMS
have the possibility of having
feelings, and consciousness, and AS WELL … THEY COME FROM A LONG HISTORY
a mind in the proper sense. OF LIVING CREATURES. ALL THOSE REACTIONS
BW: How do emotions and feel- ARE EXPERIENCED IN OUR BODIES.
ings relate to our cognition?
AD: Cognition is a very broad BW: Emotions are essentially are perfectly compatible. We
term, and the word can be used the same for all human beings. are the same human beings in
in different ways. It relates to How did we come up with such a terms of our abilities to perceive,
practically everything that your diverse set of cultures? to manipulate the world, and
mind can do: perception, such AD: Yes, human nature is ex- to have emotions and feelings.
as seeing or hearing or creating a tremely similar across different Our biology is the same, and we
memory of what you see or hear, human groups and different have the same essential motiva-
and then manipulating memo- parts of the world. Human na- tion: to be well, to be happy, to
ries in a way that allows you ture is, in essence, the same. We avoid suffering. But the resulting
to reason and make decisions. have certain characteristics in cultures are distinct and these
Cognition is the collection of all our bodies, in our nervous sys- distinctions derive from the con-
those processes. tems, certain reactions that are ditions of the places where they
clearly very similar in all human have evolved (climate, geogra-
BW: What is consciousness? beings. But the way things get phy, etc.) and by the history of
AD: Consciousness is the ability invented and constructed has a each place and its people (wars,
that we have to know ourselves, lot to do with the things going conflicts, etc.).
to know that we are in fact in- on in the particular part of the
dependent creatures that have world you are in. Basic things,
a mind — a mind that is taking such as the climate surrounding
on the world around us and the us, have a great impact. We’ll
world inside ourselves. Emo- make efforts and create things
tions can occur in the absence to adapt to the temperatures and
of consciousness. But you only climate around us, and so forth.
have consciousness when you So, the way that cultures have
have a sense of your own being, evolved in different parts of the
of taking on the world in terms world, have both similarities
of what you’ve seen, or heard, or and differences. The two things
touched, or felt. Consciousness
is the ability to have a mind
with subjectivity, the sense of
being a subject.

Summer 2018


by James Sullivan

■ We often think of our emotions as sudden and fleeting, and we

pride ourselves on making our decisions based on reason and logic
— not letting our emotions get in the way. The reality is a bit grayer.
Our emotions, it seems, are a bit more complex than we think. We
respond to them in a variety of ways that may surprise us — and use
multiple parts of the brain. The process has been a longtime interest of
neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of “How Emotions Are
Made: The Secret Life of the Brain,” which was published last year. She
has given a number of lectures on the subject and was the recipient of
the National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award in 2007. She
is a University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern
University of Massachusetts.
Her theory of constructed emotion explains why we experience emotions differ-
ently — and why we think we can perceive the emotions of others, even if we’re
not necessarily accurate. Brain World recently had the opportunity to sit down with
Barrett to discuss her work.

Brain World: What got you interested in they also reported feeling depressed and
neuroscience? vice versa, and I thought, well, it’s obvi-
Lisa Feldman Barrett: I was always ous that anxiety and depression differ in
super interested in biology and in physi- many ways — including in how aroused
ology and in anatomy. So I ended up people feel, so there must be some
going to graduate school, and I became physical ways of measuring emotion.
very interested in the science of emotion There must be some objective ways of
when I was completing my doctoral measuring emotion that can tell you
dissertation because I had a collection when someone is accurate about their
of self-reported measures of emotion, experience and when they’re not.
where you ask people how they feel — I thought it would be a really simple,
that weren’t performing the way they straightforward task that I would just
were supposed to, according to people’s go through the literature, look up the
beliefs about emotion at that time. So evidence and use it, because we all learn
when people reported feeling anxious, in our introductory psychology classes
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Summer 2018
claiming that everybody scowls brain stem, into the cortex. I
WHAT WE LEARN IS THAT THE when they’re angry and pouts think this gave me a really dif-
BRAIN FOR THE MOST PART, when they’re sad, but when you ferent view than my colleagues,
WHEN IT COMES TO actually measure those muscle and I also think that because
PSYCHOLOGICAL PHENOMENA movements in the face electrically, I didn’t start off steeped in the
you don’t find that at all. You assumptions — I wasn’t trained
LIKE THINKING AND FEELING, know, sometimes in anger your in a neuroscience program — I
AND DECIDING AND SEEING, AND heart rate goes up, sometimes it was free from the assumptions of
SO ON, DOESN’T HAVE ANY goes down, sometimes it stays the my field. I just came in kind of
same. It all depends on what your naive, and I think that allowed
DEDICATED REGIONS OR EVEN brain is preparing your body to me to see some things that other
DEDICATED NETWORKS FOR do — what action to take. people didn’t see at that time.
THESE PHENOMENA. INSTEAD OF So as I was going through this,
people started making claims BW: Has our understanding of
ASKING WHERE IS EMOTION IN about the localization of emotion emotion changed significantly?
THE BRAIN, WHAT YOU CAN ASK in the brain that there were par- How so?
INSTEAD IS — HOW IS EMOTION ticular brain regions dedicated to LFB: Well, I’d like to give you a
CREATED BY THE BRAIN? particular emotions. So I started redemption story. Scientists had
off as a clinical psychologist, and mistaken ideas about emotions
I retrained in psychophysiology, and then came neuroscience and
and all through graduate school
so I could learn about the elec- now we know better — look at
that there are several categories
tromyography of the face — the the revolution that occurred. I
of emotions that are universal
electrical signals of facial mus- don’t think that’s exactly what
— anger, sadness, fear, disgust —
cle movement — and I learned happened. I do think that brain
that everyone around the world is
about autonomic physiology so imaging played a super impor-
born with a brain that has circuits
I could measure the end organs tant part. I think the story is
for these emotions. When the
of the body. This was right at the more like this — that since the
circuit triggers, everyone makes
time when brain imaging started time of the ancient world, people
the same expression on the face
to become very popular, and I have believed that emotions are
and the same autonomic changes
thought, well now I needed to these urges that are built in to
in the body, and everyone can
become a neuroscientist. the more animalistic parts of our
recognize these expressions, and
So I did. I did all of those brains from birth, and that they
so on. You know, when you’re
things as a professor, moving up can be localized to particular
angry, you scowl and your blood
through the ranks in a lab, and regions of the brain. So back
pressure goes up, and so on.
I took a little bit of a different in ancient times, some people
So I went through the litera-
approach than most neuroscien- weren’t thinking about the brain
ture, and I found that in fact,
tists coming out of psychology as being important for the mind,
that’s not the case at all. Certainly,
do. People studying the brain like Aristotle, but other people,
there are claims that that’s the
and the mind tend to start with like Hippocrates, were really
case, but when you actually look
the message. They might learn interested in the brain as the seat
at the data, it doesn’t support
about functional brain imag- of the mind. The assumption
those claims — at all. Like, not
ing, for example, or they might was always that the brain, or the
even a little bit. You have people
learn about measuring electrical cortical parts of the brain, were
changes in the brain, or invasive important for thinking, and the
brain stimulation. Instead of do- body, or the subcortical parts
ing that, I decided I would start of the brain which control the
by learning the anatomy of the body, are important for emotion.
nervous system. So I started with This was always the assumption.
the anatomy of the peripheral Yet at every point in history,
nervous system, up through the whoever was writing about emo-
tion also raised concerns about
this view — and nobody ever lis-
tened, really. Whatever counted
as data, in any particular era,
was brought to bear against this
view — but no one listened.
Then in the late 19th century,

when psychology was emerging BW: How good are we at inter- able to your brain, and your brain
as a science, researchers tried to preting emotions? “makes” interest. What it’s doing
understand the physical basis of LFB: That’s a great question, when it’s making interest, or an- YOU HAVE
thinking, or of being angry. Dur- and I can answer it as a scientist ger, or actually any mental state at SOME STATE OF
ing this time, there were scientists or as a person. “How good?” all, is it’s trying to make sense of INTEREST THAT
like Wilhelm Wundt or William is what a scientist would call internal sensations in your body
James, who said our understand- “validity.” If you and I are talk- in relation to what’s going on THEN YOU
ing of emotion is completely ing, and I’m guessing that you’re around you in the world. DETECT AND
wrong. For many years, people interested — how “valid” is my So am I good at making sense PERCEIVE, IT’S
tried to find the physical basis of guess? Normally, in science, we of all of this in the same way
emotion in the body, in the brain, want to have an objective cri- you are? I would say if we come
and nobody could do it. terion — so we can objectively from similar backgrounds, then A SET OF
So people started to offer ideas measure your interest and let me I’m probably not bad. If we’ve INGREDIENTS
on how the brain was creating compare that to my judgment. learned the same ways of mak-
emotion, but those ideas were Nothing like that in emotion ing sense of things, I’m probably
never formalized really well. exists, because there’s nothing not bad. It’s also possible that AVAILABLE TO
When brain imaging emerged, about your face, your body, or I’m not great, but the question YOUR BRAIN,
people started to again test the your brain that, even in combi- is how much agreement do you AND YOUR
hypothesis that emotions can nation, will tell me in a given actually need? So in some cases
be localized in different parts instance whether or not you’re all you need is the gist — I just BRAIN
of the brain, and that’s actually interested, or feeling contempt, need to know that you’re feeling “MAKES”
how it looks for a little bit of or feeling angry. The reason why, pleasant or unpleasant. That’s INTEREST.
time in some of the first studies, is that the category of emotion, enough. So I might not think
but it quickly became clear that like interest, is not a thing. It’s a you’re interested. I might think
that wasn’t the case. One of the variable set of instances — in the that you’re happy, but it’s close DOING WHEN
things that you sometimes hear way that any member of a given enough for the purposes of a IT’S MAKING
from neuroscientists is that we’ve species, like a cocker spaniel, is single interaction.
learned nothing from brain imag- not a “perfect” individual. It’s a However, there are lots of
ing at all for various reasons, but highly variable group of individ- times when it’s not enough. For ANGER, OR
that’s completely untrue. We’ve uals whose features vary in a way example, take the whole #MeToo ACTUALLY ANY
learned a tremendous amount that’s important to the environ- movement. It’s really important
from brain imaging. It’s just not ment that they live in. The same that people are making sense of
what people expected to learn. thing is true about emotions. their own sensations in a way AT ALL, IS IT’S
What we learn is that the brain As a consequence, to ask about that’s congruent with how other TRYING TO
for the most part, when it comes the questions of validity — am people are making sense of their MAKE SENSE
to psychological phenomena I guessing correctly — we have actions. When that doesn’t hap-
like thinking and feeling, and to compare it to something else, pen, lots and lots and lots of OF INTERNAL
deciding and seeing, and so on, like your judgment of whether problems arise. I’m not just say- SENSATIONS IN
doesn’t have any dedicated re- you’re interested, or somebody ing instances of sexual harass- YOUR BODY IN
gions or even dedicated networks else’s judgment of whether you’re ment, rape, or what have you;
for these phenomena. Instead of interested. Do we have two peo- I’m talking about instances where
asking where is emotion in the ple agreeing? — what we call people are misunderstanding WHAT’S GOING
brain, what you can ask instead “inter-rater reliability.” Now it each other, which happens quite ON AROUND
is — how is emotion created turns out in everyday life, that’s frequently. It can happen in the
by the brain? We understand mostly what matters. Mostly courtroom, it can happen very
now that the brain is equipped what matters for our ability to tragically in the emergency room, WORLD.
with large-scale networks that communicate, is that I’m guess- it can happen definitely across
are involved in a lot of the same ing in a way that makes sense of cultural boundaries. It happens
functions. Neuroscience didn’t so your physical movements and enough that we should pay atten-
much give us an aha moment as the acoustics of your voice, in tion to it and try to fix it.
it put the nails in the coffin built the same way that you’re making
over a very long period of time. sense of your own sensations.
That’s actually what brains do.
It’s not that you have some state
of interest that then you detect
and perceive, it’s that you have a
set of ingredients that are avail-

Summer 2018
a system is to run a model of that if I’m waiting for my lover or
YOU COULD JUST LEARN HOW system and correct it, as needed. best friend or daughter to come
IT’S MADE — AND YOU CAN ALTER Basically, you have a model and home. It might make an instance
THE RECIPE. SO IF WE it makes predictions of what’s go- of nausea or just hunger.
UNDERSTAND HOW EMOTIONS ing to happen next in the system, But it may affect my percep-
and if the model’s wrong, you tion of the world — if I’m driv-
ARE MADE, AND MORE SO HOW just correct it. ing on the highway and some-
OUR OWN BRAINS WORK, IN It turns out that the brain is one cuts me off, my perception
RELATION TO OUR BODIES AND structured this way — that neu- could be that that guy’s a jerk.
rons in the brain are structured I might think he’s the cause of
WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND US, to predict as opposed to react these sensations of unpleasant-
THEN WE’RE IN A BETTER to the world, so basically what ness. So it’s not your reactions
POSITION TO CHANGE THE your brain is attempting to do to the world — it’s the way your
is while it’s thinking and feeling brain makes sense of the inner
RECIPE. MAYBE EVEN TO CHANGE and seeing, it’s simultaneously workings of your body in rela-
THE INGREDIENTS. attempting to anticipate the tion to the world.
needs of the body and meet
BW: So how do we fix it? BW: How are emotions created? those needs before they arise. If BW: So this is why so many
LFB: Imagine you’re interested in LFB: Your brain didn’t really your brain’s going to stand you people express their emotions
changing how something tastes evolve to think and feel and see, up, it will raise your blood pres- differently.
— like baked bread. You could it evolved to regulate your body. sure before it stands you up so LFB: Yes. It’s not so much that
just slather some butter on, right? As bodies got bigger, what scien- you don’t faint. other people express their emo-
— or peanut butter and jam, or tists call the “ecological niche” You may be asking what all tions differently — it’s that you
something. You could add some- of an animal got bigger — their of this has to do with emotion yourself experience the same
thing after the fact. Or you could brains got bigger. I like to think — well, it’s really important emotion category differently in
just learn how it’s made — and about the brain as kind of like to understand this to under- different situations. Sometimes
you can alter the recipe. So if we the financial office of a com- stand how your emotions are in anger you’ll lash out, but
understand how emotions are pany. In a company, you have made, because when your brain sometimes in anger, you cry, you
made, and more so how our own lots of offices, and each office is regulating systems in your freeze. Sometimes in anger, you
brains work, in relation to our is spending revenue and getting body, there are sensations that withdraw, or you laugh in the
bodies and what’s going on around deposits. The goal is to not let arise from those changes. You face of anger. It’s very similar to
us, then we’re in a better position any office go bankrupt. You don’t experience those changes Darwin’s definition of a “species”
to change the recipe. Maybe even need to keep the whole country in high fidelity, in the same way — you know, just like there are
to change the ingredients. fiscally sound and everything in that you see and hear. Instead of many individuals in a species,
That’s a more effective way of balance. You want to be able to like an HDTV, it comes in like you have many different instanc-
doing things. Instead of asking invest in opportunities that may a fuzzy, black-and-white image. es of emotion, a category like
where are emotions located in not pay off, but you want to take You experience them as simple anger. There are also differences
your brain, explain to people: that chance. I think that’s what feelings — pleasant or unpleas- in people between cultures and
“Here is how your brain works. the brain is really doing for the ant, feeling worked up. These also within a culture. In some
This is what we know so far. Giv- body — it’s running a budget. feelings are with you every wak- cultures, anger doesn’t even exist
en that this is how a brain works, Instead of money, the budget ing moment of your life. They’re as a category — people make
in the world surrounded by other is for things like glucose and salt not emotions, they’re the result sense of those sensations in a
brains and bodies, what’s the and water. It’s tracking expen- of your brain’s budgeting. very different way.
most effective way to change the ditures and revenues, and it’s So we have names for these
ingredients?” That’s really the attempting to do this in the most feelings — some people call
approach that I take in my book. metabolically efficient way, be- them “moods,” scientists call
cause a major constraint on brain them “affect,” some people call
function is metabolic efficiency. them “gut feelings.” So your
Twenty percent of your brain is brain is trying to make sense of
metabolic budget. It turns out these feelings and of the world,
the most efficient way to regulate in order to prepare your body
for what to do next. If I have a
big change in the systems of my
body, and I feel intensely un-
pleasant, my brain might make
an instance of anxiety. It might
make an instance of longing

BW: Do you think artificial her as a person. Women have a BW: How do we build emotions? this, but I am actually talking
intelligence will ever be success- bit of a “double blind” in our LFB: If you believe you were as a neuroscientist. Anything,
ful at understanding human culture — because the stereo- born with a set of emotional cir- which makes it easier for your
emotion? type is that women are these cuits prewired into your brain, brain to keep your body’s budget
LFB: We’re just a bunch of brains overly emotional creatures who and the way emotion works is in balance, will make it easier for
trying to understand how brains can’t control themselves, and one of these circuits gets trig- your brain to make beneficial in-
work. That’s a very limiting fac- who should not be in positions gered — then you have a feeling, stead of problematic emotions.
tor. I think technology holds the of authority. That’s a bit of a an expression, an obligatory Eat properly, eat healthfully,
key to answering some of these caricature, but it’s still assumed change in your body — then which is really hard to do in our
questions. If variability is the that women are more emotional regulating emotion means that culture, and exercise on a regular
norm in any emotion, then how than men. If you ask a woman all you can do is avoid the situa- basis. The more difficult it is, the
does the human brain solve this if she’s more emotional than a tions that will trigger the circuit more unpleasant you will feel —
problem? The answer is the hu- man, on average, she’ll say yes — or try to regulate things after the greater opportunity there is
man brain has a way of dealing and men agree. the fact. When you understand for negative emotions.
with variation. We just have to When you track women’s and how the brain works and how It’s that simple. Another thing
take a clue there. So if we’re build- men’s emotionality in day-to-day emotions are made within that you can do is in the moment
ing technology to answer ques- life, you don’t see any differenc- framework, what it does is wid- — change the situation that
tions like how to read an anger es on average between men and en the horizons of control for you’re in. Get up, take a walk.
expression, and what they mean women. So there are some peo- you. There are things that you Get outside yourself. If you can’t
by that is to detect a scowling ple who are more emotional and can do, outside of the moment, physically change rooms, you
face, that is going to go nowhere. some who are less, but, on average, that will make it easier for your can figuratively change, by pay-
They’re equating the measure- men and women are not different. brain to construct the feelings ing attention to different things
ment with their interpretation of I’ll give you an example. I that you find beneficial. around you. In any room that
the measurement. Facial move- have a student who’s a woman Generally speaking, there are you’re in, your brain is paying
ments alone have no meaning — she was trained in linguistics, three domains of ingredients — attention to some things and
without context and the rest of but she spent the last several the sensations of regulating your ignoring others — so you can
the signals in creating an emo- years in graduate school learning brain’s body budget — mood change your surroundings by just
tion. I think the answer is there, computational modeling from a or affect. There’s the situation paying attention to other things.
I just think someone in the tech- group of signal processing engi- you’re in that your brain is trying You can look out a window, look
nology industry has to be brave neers — very mathy, sophisticat- to make sense of. And there’s the at a plant, look at a photograph.
enough to ask the right questions. ed stuff. She wrote a fellowship internal model that your brain This is why a lot of people are
application. Despite the fact that is running, to make predictions interested in mindfulness. The
BW: How does gender bias guide she has been making progress about what’s going to happen most interesting thing you can
our emotional perception of oth- over several years and has let- next, which comes from your do — you can’t change your past,
er people? ters of recommendation from past experience. So if you change but you can cultivate experiences
LFB: In very significant and engineers saying she’s a fantastic any of those things, you change in the moment that sort of feed
substantial ways I would say. candidate, one of her reviewers your emotions. You have control your brain to predict differently
The law is probably the clearest denied her application. She may over your emotions. in the future. You can expand
place where you can see this. not get funded now because she’s Some of them are easy; some your emotion vocabulary. You in-
You can see it in politics pretty a woman. That bias that girls of them are much harder than vest a little in the present to culti-
clearly I think. You can see it can’t do math, could affect the others. It’s never the case that vate emotions that we know to be
anywhere really, medicine too. rest of her career. So I think the you can snap your fingers and helpful — gratitude and wonder
We have very gendered beliefs idea that when women are logi- just change how you feel. On and awe. Practice them enough,
about emotion. So for example, cal, it’s an anomaly — but when the other hand, you have more and your brain learns how to
when people in our culture look they’re emotional, they’re not fit control than you might imagine. make them automatically.
at a man who is scowling or ap- for leadership or anything that Some people like to ask, “If I
pears to be angry, on average, requires logical analysis. could control one thing about
people assume he’s angry be- my emotions, what would it
cause something in the situation be?” and the answer is — get
has caused him to be angry. His some sleep. Get enough sleep.
anger reflects something about That sounds really boring, and I
the state of the world. sound like a mother when I say
When a woman is angry, on
average, people assume she’s an-
gry because she’s a shrew or she’s
overly emotional — that her
anger reveals something about

Summer 2018




Exploring The Science of Anxiety

It keeps us up long hours, fearing sleep. Perhaps it’s the reason we toss
and turn at night, or wake up in a panic, sometimes even struggling to
breathe, or why you find yourself reluctant to look at the news alerts on
your phone — or read email. As advanced as our species has become over
the last two centuries, it seems we cannot elude the primal state of anxi-
ety — it’s almost always right there waiting for us. Of course, some sense
it more than others. Usually, you’ve got a good reason to be worried — will
your yearly job review be a good one? Did you prepare enough for your
final exam? Will the hospital test results come out OK?
It’s easy to think that we’re the only ones off when the brain’s amygdala first processes
who agonize like this over events that are all the threat. It relays a message to the hypo-
too often inevitable, but what we’re experienc- thalamus, activating the pituitary gland that
ing is actually something our species has long begins to secrete the hormone epinephrine,
evolved with. Our primate ancestors navi- rapidly increasing blood flow to the muscles
gated a harsh and unforgiving terrain — having and allowing our ancestors to either flee or
to retreat to trees or caverns when nightfall intimidate their attacker. The rush of chemi-
came — bringing with it an array of predators. cal signals from the brain produce cortisol —
Those who survived the prehistoric times — at increasing blood sugar and blood pressure to
least long enough to produce offspring, were heighten that same energy and awareness we
those who could best recognize approaching sense in a stressful situation.
danger — to spot leopards, snakes, even larger
primates, hiding in the tall savannah grasses. TO FLEE OR NOT TO FLEE?
Crossing paths with a striking adder would From the time Walter Bradford Cannon first
have triggered the classic “fight-or-flight re- described this response back in 1929, we have
sponse” in their brains. The response starts come to equate the almond-shaped amygdala

Summer 2018
SCIENCE cont’d bring to the table when you live
TRY TO OBSERVE WHAT IS your day-to-day life — try to ob-
serve what is happening around
with the emotion of fear — thinking HAPPENING AROUND YOU IF YOU you if you find yourself looking
with our amygdala, the primal so-
called reptilian brain, when we are
FIND YOURSELF LOOKING TOO too far inward. Keeping a journal
easily startled. Recent research, FAR INWARD. KEEPING A JOURNAL in which you simply list events that
happened throughout your day
however, suggests that basic emo- IN WHICH YOU SIMPLY LIST EVENTS can help us to look objectively,
tions like fear and anger are hardly
restricted to any particular region
THAT HAPPENED THROUGHOUT even helping to remember some
of the brain. As Aalto University YOUR DAY CAN HELP US TO LOOK of the things we accomplished
doctoral candidate and research- OBJECTIVELY, EVEN HELPING TO more smoothly.
The constant fear of preda-
er Heini Saarimäki describes it, REMEMBER SOME OF THE tors likely stole sleep from our
“From the biological point of view,
an emotion is a state of the entire
THINGS WE ACCOMPLISHED ancestors — and even though we
brain at a given moment.” MORE SMOOTHLY. have moved from the grasslands,
the problem of sleep deprivation
Rather than specific regions of
plagues us today. Nearly one-third
the brain being activated when we ture microscopes placed into their WHAT ABOUT US?
of the population is thought to suf-
anxiously await our test results, the brains highlighted a burst of activ- Another experiment, performed
fer from what the World Health
emotion we feel is actually the sum ity in the ventral CA1 region of the at University of Waterloo in Can-
Organization has described as a
total of a number of factors. The hippocampus, the more agitated ada looked at anxiety levels in
catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic.
doctor’s tone of voice or the way the mice became. 80 different students who were
Around 31 percent of the Ameri-
they enter the room, may be inter- The output from these neurons categorized as having either high
can and Canadian population falls
preted by the brain as ominous or came from the hypothalamus, or low anxiety, though all at levels
into this statistic.
reassuring. As that happens, the responsible for regulating the they could manage. They were
With an eventful workweek, it
brain is also quickly pulling up a hormones behind emotions. The shown words that flashed across
may seem like second nature to
number of memories — where you same regulation process occurs a computer screen, superimposed
lose a few hours of sleep, but our
were the last time you received in people too, so the researchers on random images, and then
brains take a toll that we may not
bad news, for example. suspect that the same anxiety neu- quizzed on the words they could
realize. The more tired your brain
You may wonder why painful rons occur in human biology. The remember. While the high- and
is, the more difficult it is to assess
memories remain so detailed in good news is that at least for the low-anxiety groups seemed to re-
an ordinary situation from a threat-
our minds for years after they hap- mice, there’s a way these neurons call similar numbers of words, the
ening one. You might attribute feel-
pened — why it’s possible to replay can be controlled. researchers noticed that the high-
ing tired after work to crunching
them and revisit them so often, The technique is known as “op- anxiety group was actually better
numbers all day, but working longer
while forgetting mundane details togenetics” in which the cells are at recalling words superimposed
hours and sleeping fewer hours
from yesterday. We may now know controlled by a beam of light, shone on the more bleak images — pic-
actually leaves you vulnerable to
why this has become part of our directly onto the ventral CA1 region. tures of car wrecks or burning
more negative emotional states.
mental fabric. A recent study iden- The cells that were activated during buildings, for example.
With sleep deprivation, the con-
tified “anxiety neurons” residing in periods of high anxiety shut down, “Their memories were more
nectivity of the amygdala to the
the hippocampuses of lab mice, and the mice confidently explored emotionally tinted,” says professor
ventromedial prefrontal cortex
using calcium imaging to highlight their environment once again. Ad- of psychology Myra Fernandes,
is weakened. The amygdala initi-
brain activity. The hippocampus is justing the light settings further al- who co-authored the study, “and
ates a fear response but cannot
a part of the brain’s limbic system lowed the researchers to reverse as a result rendered more memo-
act without the approval of the
that plays a role in the formation this effect. They were able to in- rable.” While anxious people may
ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
of memories. crease anxiety levels even when have an advantage with memory
Connectivity between the insula
the rodents were safely enclosed in over their less anxious peers,
and the amygdala are increased,
SHINING A LIGHT familiar surroundings. The team sus- there is a caveat. If you have too
magnifying the fear response. As
To instill feelings of anxiety in the pects that these neurons may exist much anxiety, your mood can also
basic as it sounds, getting a mini-
mice, the researchers at the Uni- in other parts of the brain as well. affect the way you perceive day-
mum of seven to eight hours of un-
versity of California, San Fran- “These cells are probably just to-day events.
interrupted sleep is crucial — for
cisco, placed them in an intricate one part of an extended circuit Therefore, Fernandes suggests
much more than we realize. Just
maze. Some of the trails brought by which the animal learns about being mindful of the biases you
getting back those few extra hours
them to open spaces, others lifted anxiety-related information,” said
each week can be the difference
them onto a different platform — neuroscientist and lead research-
that push us to go the extra mile
forcing them from the safety of er Mazen Kheirbek, who plans to
— to chase after the dream job or
the walls. Even though they have pursue the study further. Perhaps
apartment that we never thought
no natural enemies, the mice dis- one day in the future, conditions
we could get, rather than to just
played the same feelings of vulner- like post-traumatic stress disorder
play it safe and keep our deepest
ability to predators, just as their could become as treatable as turn-
fears at bay.
cousins would in the wild. Minia- ing a light switch on and off.


New Pill Reverses

Memory Loss in
an Amazing Way
Developed by top Israeli doctor; study shows key ingredient
reverses years of mental decline and may also prevent
dementia; initial users in America report improvements in
memory, concentration, and thinking power POPULAR PILL: Doctors are now recommending
new Lipogen PS Plus to seniors suffering from
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Associated Health Press forgetfulness, and mental decline and why Lipogen
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mental decline” explains David Rutenburg,
They were also able remember names, faces, and the hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels are too
President of the parent company behind the Lipogen
recall events faster and with great clarity. high for too long you experience fatigue, bad moods
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The Role of Emotion in the Clinical Conversation

Medicine has always relied heavily upon the art of conversation in order
to successfully treat the behaviors, thoughts, and especially emotions of
those who are suffering. However, there is little research which explores
how well clinicians can recognize and manage their own emotions during
difficult health care conversations. Furthermore, practical and theoreti-
cal approaches, on how patients and clinicians can optimize their aware-
ness and utilization of these emotions within the clinical encounter are still
somewhat unknown.
Many patients and clinicians still believe that An article published in 2015 by Margo M.C.
the body can be successfully treated without van Mol and colleagues in the journal PLOS
much conversation and use of emotions. How- One, titled “The Prevalence of Compassion
ever, the underlying etiology of much of psycho- Fatigue and Burnout among Healthcare Pro-
pathology is the inability to separate thought fessionals in Intensive Care Units: A System-
from emotion — and emotion from physiological atic Review,” investigated how emotions can
health. Health care professionals often deliver bidirectionally and negatively effect both the
their care in a logical, evidence-based fashion, patient and the caregiver within stressful clini-
and patients tend to withhold their emotions cal environments. Burnout among nurses and
due to their state of vulnerability. When health physicians who work in intensive care units
care professionals and patients have difficulty (ICUs) can be a direct result of the demanding
recognizing, managing, and reflecting upon and continually stressful work environment. It
their emotions, they can find themselves at is thought that end-of-life issues, the nuances
their mercy. How can emotions be a source of of ethical decision-making, observing the
healing and empowerment for both doctors and continuous suffering of patients, and miscom-
patients, and how can we imbue the clinical en- munication with the patient’s relatives emo-
counter with the values of narrative medicine? tionally affect many ICU professionals. From
It seems that the ability of doctors and patients their analysis, van Mol’s team determined that
to successfully communicate emotions can be the difficulty with communication might be
both a cause of — and a remedy for — suffering. a major source of emotional distress. Due to

Summer 2018
SCIENCE cont’d event or caring for someone who
MANY PATIENTS DESIRE TO has experienced a traumatic event.
In particular, secondary traumatiza-
the fact that many patients in the FEEL UNDERSTOOD, RESPECTED, tion may lead to burnout, vicarious
ICU lack optimal decision-making
capacity, health care professionals
AND SEEN FROM A HUMANISTIC trauma, and “compassion fatigue,”
must successfully communicate AND SUBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW which many health care profes-
sionals suffer from.
with relatives for decision-making RATHER THAN A PROBLEM THAT Compassion fatigue (CF) is a
in regards to care — and this can NEEDS TO BE OBJECTIVELY state of physical or psychological
be a serious source of miscommu-
nication and misunderstandings in
SOLVED. THIS IS ESPECIALLY distress in caregivers that may
regard to treatment expectations. IMPORTANT IN MEDICINE WHERE occur as a consequence of an on-
going relationship with a demand-
The emotional burden of medical A PATIENT’S VULNERABILITY ing patient or colleague. It is also
care and failure to communicate
may ultimately cause absenteeism
IS COUPLED WITH FEELINGS OF known as the “helper syndrome,”
for both the patient and the care- SHAME, FEAR, AND LOW which results from a continuous
onset of disappointing situations
giver who wish to preserve their SELF-ESTEEM. that leads to moral distress. CF
own health.
was originally described within
A 2015 study published in the they experienced when having a negative emotion when it starts the literature as the loss of com-
journal Patient Education and difficult health care conversations to contribute to the overidentifica- passion resulting from repeated
Counseling, titled “Clinicians’ with their patients. The research- tion of difficulty, loss, and sadness exposure to suffering during
recognition and management of ers also used subsequent ques- of a patient. Given that there were work. Eventually CF was defined
emotions during difficult health- tions to measure the frequency of no significant differences that as a “secondary traumatic stress”
care conversations,” by Elliott B. each emotion and whether or not were found based on discipline condition resulting from a deep
Martin and colleagues examined the clinical care was affected. or work experience, empathy may involvement with a traumatized
the most commonly reported Martin’s team found that em- reflect a personality trait for those person due to the “friendly fram-
emotions faced among health care pathy and anxiety were emotions who are drawn to work in the ing” of the encounter. Generally
practitioners when holding difficult perceived to influence care more health care field in general. speaking, CF contains two parts:
conversations with patients. The than sadness, frustration, and in- Physical emotional stress reac- the first part contains issues such
study composed of 152 medical security, and that most clinicians, tions such as headaches, sleeping as exhaustion, frustration, and de-
practitioners including physicians, regardless of clinical experience disturbances, low back pain, and pression, while the second part
nurses, and psychosocial profes- and discipline, strongly believe stomach problems as well as men- contains the negative feelings
sionals with a broad range of ex- that their emotional state influ- tal responses such as irritability or driven by concerns such as hy-
perience levels who completed ences the quality of care that they hostility, cognitive fog (that is, loss pervigilance, avoidance, fear, and
self-report questionnaires before deliver. It is especially important of concentration), low self-confi- intrusion. This poses the question
stimulation-based communication to note that anxiety and empathy dence, and emotional instability as to whether or not compassion
workshops. Clinicians were asked emerged as the most common could all indicate the presence of and empathy felt during a medical
to describe up to three emotions emotions within their analysis. an emotional trauma. The field of interaction between patient and
Although anxiety is considered a traumatization, which focuses on clinician can be a source of health
negative emotion, the researchers the process and origin of develop- and resiliency rather than sickness
were more interested in the posi- ing stress symptoms, makes a clear and fatigue. Indicators of emotion,
tive consequences of anxiety, such distinction between “primary” and which range from facial responses
as the constant desire to succeed “secondary” traumatization. Pri- to changes in body positioning,
in clearly relaying information to mary traumatization is the process represent an essential part of
the patient, attention to details, that can occur from having persis- nonverbal communication in ev-
and overall conscientiousness. tent, intense, and direct contact eryday life and may be an impor-
The findings showed that empathy with a traumatic event, such as tant means of creating a healthy
was generally described as a posi- a situation of violence or sexual caregiver-patient relationship.
tive emotion, since it emotionally abuse, whereas secondary trauma- Doctors and nurses who instill
grounds the clinician and enables tization is the process via an indi- in a patient a sense of motivation,
him or her to experience the emo- rect exposure, which may develop positive expectations, and pride
tions of others with which they from hearing about a traumatic have better clinical outcomes
work. However, the researchers than those who are less emotion-
found that empathy, to a particu- ally interactive and supportive. A
lar degree, can be experienced as 2016 study by Louise H. Hall and
colleagues, titled “Healthcare
Staff Wellbeing, Burnout, and Pa-
tient Safety: A Systematic Review,”
showed that poor well-being and

moderate to high levels of burn- confirming.” Räty and Gustafsson None of the most commonly used a 2012 study by Carmen Ramírez-
out among health care providers found that confirming health care pharmacological, medical, or surgi- Maestre and colleagues published
are associated with poor patient encounters aroused emotions like cal treatments are, by themselves, in The Spanish Journal of Psychol-
well-being and safety outcomes, hope and feelings of security, joy, sufficiently able to remove pain ogy, titled “The role of optimism
such as medical errors. In regards relief, and pride, while disconfirm- or to significantly enhance physi- and pessimism in chronic pain pa-
to patient well-being, a 2008 study ing encounters aroused emotions cal and emotional functioning for tients adjustment,” found that ac-
published in the Journal of Happi- such as despair, fear, unrest, resig- patients suffering from CP. How- tive emotional coping is associated
ness Studies by Ruut Veenhoven nation, shame, and guilt. The most ever, affective coping strategies, with low levels of pain, anxiety, de-
of Erasmus University Rotterdam, important emotions that were motivation, and positive treatment pression, and impairment and high
titled “Healthy happiness: effects identified to be playing key roles expectancies may play an impor- levels of functioning, whereas pas-
of happiness on physical health within the confirming clinical en- tant role in the treatment of, and sive emotional coping is related to
and the consequences for pre- counters were motivational. Emo- adjustment to, CP. high levels of pain, anxiety, depres-
ventive healthcare,” investigated tions, such as a feeling of security, A 2010 study published in the sion, and impairment and low lev-
whether or not happiness is in fact aroused a desire within patients to journal Current Pain and Head- els of functioning for those suffer-
good for one’s health. A synthetic fortify their positive self-percep- ache Reports by John A. Sturgeon ing from a variety of CP conditions.
analysis of 30 follow-up studies on tions and motivate them to have and Alex J. Zautra of Arizona State Identifying the factors that
happiness and longevity was per- constructive and sympathetic at- University, titled “Resilience: A influence affective coping and
formed and found that happiness titudes toward the health care ex- New Paradigm for Adaptation to expectancies could potentially
does not predict longevity in sick perience. Disconfirming encoun- Chronic Pain,” strongly proposes help clinicians facilitate the use
populations, but instead, predicts ters were defined by emotions, optimism and resiliency as the of emotional adaptive coping
longevity among healthy popula- such as anger, that caused patients integrative perspectives that can strategies for treating patients
tions. In other words, happiness to maintain their self-respect by ei- illuminate the traits and mecha- that suffer from several condi-
does not cure illness but it strong- ther avoiding difficult situations or nisms underlying the sustainability tions. Even though clinicians and
ly protects against becoming ill. ignoring problems altogether. This, of CP recovery and well-being. A patients seem relatively capable
Proud patients are more will- in turn, causes patients to feel 2008 multilevel modeling analysis of recognizing and managing their
ing to cooperate with caregivers alienated and objectified within by Zautra and colleagues, titled emotions, there is still significant
than patients who lack the com- clinics and can have negative ef- “Positive Affect as a Source of room for growth. Further quali-
petence to manage their own life fects upon their overall health. Resilience for Women in Chronic tative research and continuing
situations. When caregivers are Furthermore, it was found that Pain,” in the Journal of Consult- education programs designed to
often feeling emotional distress, emotional care and support is es- ing and Clinical Psychology found increase clinicians’ and patients’
it often ironically results from pecially crucial when treating com- that weekly elevations of pain recognition of, reflection on, and
their lack of emotional care, which mon diseases and conditions that and stress predict increases in management of emotions may be
they are prescribing to their pa- have a complex and unknown eti- negative affect in CP patients, and helpful in improving their ability to
tient. Patients can often become ology. Patients who suffer from a both higher weekly positive affect navigate difficult health care con-
ambivalent and frustrated if they variety of chronic pain conditions results in lower negative affect, versations. Understanding how to
become dissatisfied with the in- are often suffering from serious both directly and in interaction, manage emotions is a powerful
adequate emotional care and sup- bouts of low self-esteem, depres- with pain and stress. strategy for nurturing clinicians
port that they are receiving from sion, and trust in their own ability Research investigating the re- and patients who are more resil-
their health care provider. Many to express what they are feeling to lationships between CP patients’ ient, aware, and capable of engag-
patients desire to feel under- their doctor. dispositional optimism and pes- ing with the hardships and losses
stood, respected, and seen from Chronic pain (CP) is currently simism and the coping strategies that life sometimes has to offer.
a humanistic and subjective point considered one of the leading they use has found that there is a
of view rather than a problem that social and economic burdens to positive relationship between opti-
needs to be objectively solved. society, and is one of the most mism and the use of active coping
This is especially important in difficult pain conditions to treat strategies, and pessimism and the
medicine where a patient’s vulner- and manage. This may be due to use of passive coping strategies. In
ability is coupled with feelings of an unknown etiology and a lack
shame, fear, and low self-esteem. of current treatments designed
A study published in 2006 in specifically to meet the complex
the Journal of Neuroscience Nurs- pathophysiology and emotional
ing, titled “Emotions in relation to profile of those suffering from it.
healthcare encounters affecting
self-esteem,” by Lena Räty and
Barbro Gustafsson of Karlstad
University identified emotions in
patients with epilepsy, as a result
of health care experiences that
can be defined as being either
emotionally “confirming” or “dis-

Summer 2018
Helping How
We Feel


By Jacqueline Melendy

As many as one in six American adults

face each day with the weight of an in-
tense emotional struggle. Since the 1950s,
Western medicine has sought to treat
emotional disorders through prescription
medication, the philosophy being that
proper emotional regulation lay solely in Figure 1: This is what Rachel’s brain looked like before any ISF neurofeedback treatment. Her brain was putting
having balanced brain chemistry. There so much power into the slow waves, and the communication is heavily on the left side. These can be the major
signs of depression.
are various methods to achieve this, from
diet and lifestyle changes to more serious
The brain has a complex way of generating body and the brain aren’t communicating and
medical interventions. For some people, emotions and responses, utilizing the limbic adjusting the way they should be.
despite various treatments, they don’t system (composed of the thalamus, hippocam- Emotions are often thought of as a bottom-
feel better or feel how they would like to. pus, amygdala, and insula), which is the hub for up process, a reaction to an event — that our
Emotions live as much in our bodies sensory input, memory, and emotional integra- emotions “happen” to us. After all, we can’t
tion. This is the part of the brain that lights up help how we feel … or can we? It turns out that
as they do in our minds. For some with when a stimulus, for example, a smell, picture, emotional regulation and responses can be
an emotion disorder, they have found or touch triggers a memory and subsequently practiced and can be improved. If you wanted
relief in a brain- and body-based treat- a feeling. The limbic system gives feedback di- to strengthen your muscles, you would go to a
rectly to the autonomic nervous system (ANS), gym, but your emotional regulation systems de-
ment that targets the underlying neuro-
which is responsible for regulating heart rate, serve a good workout as well.
biological mechanisms that contributed blood pressure, and most systems that are ISF neurofeedback allows an individual to
to the emergence of the disorder, called thought to be beyond voluntary control. The receive real-time, auditory feedback about how
infra-slow functuation (ISF) neurofeed- ANS can be broken down into two subdivisions, their brain is functioning, which in turn, allows
the sympathetic nervous system, which is “fight the brain to shift and operate with more adapt-
back. A modern version of neurofeed- or flight,” and the parasympathetic nervous sys- ability. Neurofeedback is a subdivision of bio-
back, which was developed in the 1960s, tem, which is “rest and digest.” It is the balance feedback, but focused solely on the brain, using
ISF neurofeedback capitalizes on the and response of these two subsystems that EEG (electroencephalogram) readings. It is a
brain’s neuroplasticity and retrains the generate the physical components of emotion, noninvasive, drug-free treatment that directly
like when you get angry and your pulse quick- impacts the brain and autonomic nervous sys-
brain to operate in an optimal state. ISF ens, muscles tense, and body temperature in- tem, gently guiding them to an optimal operat-
neurofeedback is a brain- and physiol- creases. That physiological response is as much ing state. ISF neurofeedback gives the brain an
ogy-based treatment that guides the the “emotion” as the label that identifies it. opportunity to work in concert with the ANS, to
But that means like many things, our brains shift to a “regulated” state, instead of being in
brain and central nervous system to
and its systems can become “dysregulated” if a “reactionary” state. The brain then learns to
learn to work in harmony and strength- not given any guidance. The brain wants to be identify the regulated state as the goal — how to
en the areas of the brain involved with efficient, so if a certain neural pathway is easi- get to and stay in that state for longer and lon-
emotional control and integration. est to use — that is what will get used. This dys- ger periods of time. When the ANS is regulated,
regulation can trickle to the ANS, leaving some- the brain and body are able to shift states with
one perpetually in fight or flight. This leads to greater ease and flexibility. Reactions become
a weakened emotional response, because the more measured, anxiety becomes situational


Figure 2: After five months, Rachel’s brain had dramatically changed. Her brain is communicating in a healthier, AND CAN BE
more efficient manner and is distributing power in new ways. The deep depression has lifted as her brain
learned to communicate more efficiently.] IMPROVED.
instead of chronic, and people are able to exert For example, “Rachel” was experiencing ma- For Rachel, guiding her brain to redistribute
some control over how and when they respond. jor depressive disorder, where she was unable its power and pruning efficient neural path-
So how does ISF neurofeedback work? In to maintain friendships, didn’t have any interest ways was the key for her to feel better and
our brains, chemical and electrical signals are in activities, and was having a hard time getting gain control of her life again. For other people,
constantly firing and influencing one another. to work. She had tried prescription medication, it can be creating new pathways or increasing
These electrical signals travel at various speeds, but found the side effects to be unbearable. the brain’s output of a particular wave. Each
or frequencies, and it is these frequencies that She made dietary changes and found some re- brain is unique, with its own set of connec-
help determine one’s mental state. Too much lief — but she still wasn’t happy or motivated — tions and needs. ISF neurofeedback allows for
“fast wave” in an area, you might experience and talk therapy only took her so far. After do- each individual’s experience to be specifically
anxiety, and too much “slow wave” in an area, ing a qualitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) targeted and worked on. There is no one-size-
you might experience depression. ISF neuro- brain map (see Figure 1), it was discovered that fits-all solution.
feedback is a unique brain-training method her brain was putting almost all of its finite pow- As long as humans have brains and bodies —
that targets the infraslow frequencies (below er into deep, slow waves. These waves are nor- we will have emotions. After all, that’s how our
0.1 Hertz) that occur throughout the brain and mally associated with deep, dreamless sleep; brains encode experiences and communicate
work to coordinate processes in the body with she had them when awake, and they dominated to our minds and bodies. It is when our emo-
processes in the mind. ISF neurofeedback can her brain. tions feel so vast, as if we’re adrift in a sea with
directly target deeper brain structures, such as Rachel began ISF neurofeedback treat- no control, that our brains might need some
the limbic system. This degree of control allows ments for 30-minute sessions, once per week. guidance, a gentle nudge in the right direction.
for targeted treatment of the emotional pro- Within a few weeks she started noticing Emotions don’t have to only happen to us, with
cessing centers of the brain. that her sleep improved, she was able to fall practice and maybe some training, you can feel
The goal of neurofeedback to train the brain asleep and stay asleep much better than she the way you want to — not the way you think
to produce the correct amount of electrical had been. Within a couple of months, she was you have to.
activity in specific parts of the brain, taking taking long walks and hikes with her husband.
advantage of neuroplasticity and training the After five months of treatment, she was no
brain through auditory feedback. The auditory longer having emotional outbursts, her moods
feedback acts as a mirror, allowing the brain to were stable and she was starting to feel happy
adjust as necessary for the individual to feel again. Although the process felt slow, ISF neu-
calm and relaxed. Strengthening appropriate rofeedback was helping her brain make new
communication between brain regions allows neural pathways — pathways that allowed her
someone to better their emotional response body systems and her brain to work together
as a whole. better (see Figure 2).

Summer 2018



“Suddenly, I found I ■ “Here I am, an ordinary person, doing

what I always wanted to do. Out in the
was actually living open, sleeping under the stars, watching all
the animals. Is it possible? Can it really be
in my dream. I me?” says the celebrated primatologist and
already felt that I conservationist Jane Goodall about her first
trip to Gombe, Tanzania, where she would
belonged to this began her landmark study of chimpanzees in
the wild. In the biographical documentary
new forest world. “Jane” filmmaker Brett Morgen presents the

That this was where story of an extraordinary person who did

what many of us rarely dare to do — she
I was meant to be.” followed, and lived, her dream. “Going to
Africa, living with animals. That’s all I ever
—Jane Goodall thought about,” says Goodall.
Her lifelong passion for animals im- “At that time in the early 1960s it was held
pressed her employer enough, the famed at least by many scientists that only humans
paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, to send had minds. Only humans were capable of ra-
his 26-year-old secretary, who had no formal tional thought … I felt very much as though
scientific training, into the unknown realm I was learning about fellow beings capable of
of wild chimpanzees. As documented in the joy and sorrow, fear, and jealousy.”
film, Goodall is a keen observer and meticu- Her unorthodoxy, diligence, and months
lous note taker, and unaware of traditional of patience to gain the animals’ trust even-
research protocols. She readily forms an tually did pay off beyond anyone’s wildest
emotional bond with her subjects of study, expectations. Having the ability to closely
observe, one day in 1960 Goodall saw one
chimp she called “David Greybeard” use a
twig to unearth ants from their mound. This
capacity to make and use tools — a trait

“Gradually I was able to penetrate further
and further into a magic world that no human
had explored before. The world of the
wild chimpanzees.”
—Jane Goodall

Gombe, Tanzania — “David Greybeard”

was the first chimp to lose his fear of
Jane, eventually coming to her camp
to steal bananas and allowing Jane to
touch and groom him. As the film “Jane”
depicts, Jane and the other Gombe
researchers later discontinued feeding and
touching the wild chimps. Photo: National
Geographic Creative/Hugo van Lawick.

once thought that distinguished humans Morgen, who wrote and directed the film. One could argue that Jane Goodall eas-
from other animals — rocked the scientific His past work has focused on rebels and rock ily fits into the filmmaker’s penchant for
world — this historical “wow” moment vi- stars, from movie mogul Robert Evans in subversive subjects. Here we have a woman,
sualized beautifully in the film with the “The Kid Stays in the Picture” to the Nir- whose chimpanzee research challenged the
accompaniment of Philip Glass’ rising score. vana frontman in “Kurt Cobain: Montage of male-dominated scientific consensus of her
“Jane” was created with over 100 hours of Heck.” Says Morgen, “The footage showed time, and a novice who ended up revolu-
never-before-seen footage, shot by renowned one of the most profound intersections of tionizing our scientific understanding of the
wildlife photographer and filmmaker Hugo wilderness and civilization that has ever hap- natural world. How did Jane accomplish
van Lawick that was once believed lost, pened. The rules have changed dramatically this? By doing what we’re encouraged to do
and had been in the National Geographic since Jane did her early work because now at a young age — she followed her dream.
archives for over half a century. “My forte people aren’t allowed to touch the chimps, so
as a documentary maker has to do with this footage documents something that only
seeking out archives and constructing films happened once in the entire history of evolu-
by reappropriating found footage,” says tion — and it was shot so well.”

Summer 2018
Book Writing for Bliss:
A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life
by Diana Raab, Ph.D.
(Loving Healing Press, 2017)

Roundup ■ It seems that for nearly as long as writers

have been writing in one form or other, there
have been books on how to write. Aristotle
seemed to make her grandmother immortal.
She found the same solace in writing when
diagnosed with cancer decades later, and
wrote “Poetics” in ancient Greece, examining pursued a master’s in creative writing.
what makes a powerful and effective drama — Writing allows us to relive our lives, to place
a story to arouse pity and fear in the audience, things in perspective and further make sense
and most of it is still pretty good advice that of the world around us. We like to think of
modern screenwriters try to work with. Of stories as something that writers need black
course, styles have changed since Aristotle magic to conjure up — at least the best of them
and sometimes it’s as though audiences have who don’t copy off everyone else. Raab’s book
demanded what he warned against, so over works from the thesis that we all have stories
the last two centuries, we’ve gotten a deluge to tell, and that they all come from places we
of books on plotting and writing your own often overlook. Writers of fiction often find
stage play or short story that will sell, finishing that their stories end up being more truthful
your novel, or pitching your screenplay. Robert and healing than writing nonfiction — that they
McKee has made a living traveling the globe to feel safer delving into the imagination while
teach his famous book on plotting and story writing it. Most books on writing tend to be fo-
structure — and not just aspiring authors take cused on writing a marketable story — retool-
the course — in attendance are game design- ing your work to fit a formula that appeals to
ers and photojournalists, among others. Now, publishers. Most writing classes tend to place
there’s even a rising trend of books on how to an emphasis on style over story structure.
keep a diary and the therapy of journal writing. Raab understands that there is another reason
Raab’s latest book is an assortment of all to write: to create something beyond the ego
these things. Unlike most books that teach and realize your own potential.
the craft, she seems particularly interested in —Earl Meagan
the writer and how they transform along the
way. She begins by talking about what drove
her to become a writer — how keeping a diary
became her way of coping with the loss of her
grandmother, who was her primary caretaker
before committing suicide, and how finding
her grandmother’s lost journal that chronicled
growing up in Poland between two world wars


Brain Overall 20
Rank for
World Countries
Bits 1 FINLAND 7.632 1

The Happiest 2 NORWAY 7.594 3

Places on Earth
3 DENMARK 7.555 2
While The Walt Disney Company claims
the “Happiest Place On Earth” has
4 ICELAND 7.495 4
been located in Anaheim, California
since 1955, the Sustainable Develop- 5 SWITZERLAND 7.487 9
ment Solutions Network of the United
Nations has undertaken a more rigor-
ous study since the release of its first
6 NETHERLANDS 7.441 11
annual World Happiness Report in
2012. This year’s report has a special 7 CANADA 7.328 7
emphasis on migration, both internal
(from rural to urban areas) and inter-
national, investigating the happiness of
8 NEW ZEALAND 7.324 5
migrants, their families left behind, and
the countries receiving migrants. “The 9 SWEDEN 7.314 8
most striking finding of the report is
the remarkable consistency between
the happiness of immigrants and the
10 AUSTRALIA 7.272 6
locally born,” says co-editor John Helli-
well. “Although immigrants come from 11 ISRAEL 7.190 12
countries with very different levels of
happiness, their reported life evalua-
tions converge towards those of other
12 AUSTRIA 7.139 14
residents in their new countries.”
Here’s a look at the top 20 happiest 13 COSTA RICA 7.072 18
countries in terms of six key variables
(added together to form the overall
happiness score) believed to best sup-
14 IRELAND 6.977 13
port well-being: GDP per capita (in-
come), freedom to make life choices, 15 GERMANY 6.965 28
perceptions of corruption (trust),
healthy life expectancy, social support,
and generosity. Also included is how
16 BELGIUM 6.927 22
these countries rank in happiness for
those who are born in another country. 17 LUXEMBOURG 6.910 17
The full report is available online at
—Ralph Bernardo
18 USA 6.886 15
19 UK 6.814 20
20 UAE 6.774 19
Source: Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2018). World Happiness Report 2018, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Summer 2018
SUMMER 2018 July 25–26

Events 1–5
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
24th International Congress of
the International Association
for Cross-Cultural Psychology
Vancouver, British Columbia,
5th World Congress on Mental
Health and Well-Being

(IACCP 2018) August

Madrid 6–8
Madrid, Spain
London, United Kingdom
26th European Neurology
BPS (British Psychological
Society) Psychology of Sexuali-
ties Section: 20th Anniversary
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
31st Neurogenetics and Neurode-
generation Conference
Berlin, Germany
11th FENS (Federation of Euro-
pean Neuroscience Societies)
Tokyo, Japan
Forum of Neuroscience
8th Global Experts Meeting on
Advances in Neurology and Neu-
Austin, Texas, USA
The 5th Biennial APA (American
Psychological Association) Divi-
Zurich, Switzerland
sion 45 Research Conference
4th International Conference on
Epilepsy and Treatment
Tokyo 4th World Congress on Parkin-
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Alzheimer’s Association Interna- son’s and Huntington’s Disease
tional Conference (AAIC 2018)
31 (to Sept. 1)
23–25 Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Birmingham, United Kingdom 14th World Summit on Alzheim-
24th International Conference on er’s Disease, Dementia Care
Neuroscience and Neurochemistry Research and Awareness
World Summit on Heart, Stroke
23–27 and Neurological Disorders
Prague, Czech Republic
23rd World Congress of the Inter-
national Association for Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied
Professions (IACAPAP 2018)




September 21–22
Philadelphia, PA, USA
14–15 3rd International Conference
Richmond, Virginia, USA on Neuropsychiatry and Sleep
Annual Neurochemistry and Medicine
Neuropharmacology Congress
8th International Conference
on Cognitive Science, Brain
Disorders and Research
Singapore City, Singapore
29th International Conference on
Psychiatry and Mental Health 26–27
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
International Conference on
Neuroimmunology, Neurological
Copenhagen, Denmark
Disorders and Neurogenetics
6th International Conference on
Brain Disorders and Therapeutics

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town
World Congress on Epilepsy and

Tokyo, Japan
18th Global Neuroscience

Rome, Italy
7th International Conference
on Neurological Disorders and


Summer 2018

Courage to

by Isabel Pastor Guzman

■ Courage is not the lack of fear, but

rather, it is what enables us to do the
very thing that frightens us.
In the face of great fear, when your
hands are sweating, your heart is
pounding, and your legs are shak-
ing, you are essentially left with two
choices: to press on or to give up. But where do all these emotions come guide us. This is what the existentialists call
from? Who sets the bar for what we perceive the anxiety of nothingness.”
We’ve all felt it. And if we haven’t, as failure? Failure to what exactly? And what Think about it. I’m sure you’ve experi-
we have fallen into numbness — makes us build up the courage to overcome enced it. That moment where you’ve gotten
which is scarier than fear itself. our fear and move on to action? Perhaps to the bottom of something, where you’ve
It may have been when seeing someone we need to look no further than ourselves. really done all you could and you’ve over-
you’re heads over heels in love with, when Even though society exerts all sorts of pres- come all your demons along the way. You’ve
speaking to a large audience, when facing your sures on us, it is ultimately up to us to set completely centered yourself and are filled
boss with a tough question, or simply when expectations for ourselves, and allow all the with trust and confidence. You are ready to
saying, “Thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Please emotions that come with those expectations. give birth to something totally new.
help me,” wholeheartedly. These situations So pressing on might do us well. On a larger scale, our fears stem from the
activate our body sensations in such freaking We might fool ourselves into thinking that gap between our ideals — or dreams — and
obvious ways. But the same goes on, in more avoiding danger makes us safe, but in the our reality. Between what we wish and what
subtle and prolonged ways, when we face big- long run, avoiding danger is no safer than we actually have in front of us. In the hearts
ger challenges, like making a career change, downright exposure. Safety might in fact be of some people, those dreams have already
starting or ending a relationship, going into an more dangerous than boldness. The most come true. These people whose dreams are
operation, or running out of money. successful, scientific approach to eradicating already achieved in their hearts boldly throw
It happens when we face situations that fear is probably to systematically expose our- themselves into it without hesitation. I believe
have the potential for us to feel unsafe, to selves to the thing that scares us. We can start we can call this true courage — the courage
be hurt or singled out, to feel embarrassed with the small things, and build acceptance to create. And somewhere deep inside, we all
or awkward, to feel weird, inappropriate, and confidence as we overcome, working our know we can find it. The key is choice, con-
uncomfortable, disillusioned. It happens in way up to bigger and more serious things. tinued choice, the choice to press on until our
environments where we sense we could make There comes a point, when we face our heart is fully open, and we unlock the power
a mistake or show our incompetence or vul- deepest fears, where we can reach a state of of our potential for all to see.
nerability. You name it. What it all really boils nothingness, free from all fear. And all of a sud-
down to is: fear of failure. We fear failing. den, BOOM! — there is a spark of creativity.
Such creativity is not meant for only a few
talented ones. We all long for it. As Rollo
May, the author of “The Courage to Create”
puts it: “We are called upon to do something
new, to confront a no man’s land, to push
into a forest where there are no well-worn
paths and from which no one has returned to

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