Weekly Round Up

How does cigarette addiction affect the brain?

The effects of nicotine upon brain regions involved in addiction mirror those of cocaine, according to new neuroscience research.

Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs taken for pain relief may reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressants such as Prozac, say US researchers.

Moments of absent mindedness such as losing your keys could be the result of tiny parts of the brain taking “naps” to recharge, a study finds.Researchers discovered that contrary to popular opinion the brain is not always entirely asleep or awake but parts of it can go “offline”.

Neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology and their colleagues have tied the human aversion to losing money to a specific structure in the brain-the amygdala.

Music is not only able to affect your mood — listening to particularly happy or sad music can even change the way we perceive the world, according to researchers from the University of Groningen.

The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world. And in other  mindfulness research – fMRI shows how mindfulness meditation changes the decision making process


How to use your brain to win friends and influence people

You are probably familiar with the  lyrics of James Taylor’s “You’ve got a friend” and indeed “ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend when nothing’s going your way.”

But did you know that you have a friend you can call on who is with you all the time?

Say hello to your amydgala – your very own social satnav and your faithful friend.

So what is this amygdala and what role does it play in forming friendships and widening your social network?

Your amydgala 

Deep down in our reptilian brain lies a small thumbnail-sized structure with a name derived from the Greek word for almond. The amygdala has long been linked with a person’s mental and emotional state – in particular an emotional response – often an instant reaction – to something presently happening such as a perceived threat including the behaviours of escape and avoidance.

The bull who would not charge

As far back as the 1950’s a Spanish neuroscientist called Delgado used a tiny radio frequency stimulator implanted into the amygdala – the activation of which produced a variety of effects, including pleasant sensations. Delgado’s most famous experiment occurred at a Cordoba bull breeding ranch where he stepped into the ring with a bull which had a stimulator already implanted in the amygdala. The bull charged Delgado, who then pressed a remote control button which caused the bull to lose its aggressive instinct and to stop its charge. The bull incident was widely mentioned in the popular media at the time.

The amygdala alerts you to danger

In another important study – when brain images were recorded while persons were shown emotionally upsetting films, such as plane crashes or killer whales dismembering and eating baby seals and increase in the activity of the amygdala was observed suggesting that it is involved in storing memories for emotional events. Over the past 10 years neuroscientists have discovered that for it small size the amygdala is very complex with connections to and from many other brain regions and plays a protective role primarily involved in protection, moving us away from potentially dangerous situations.   

You’ve got a friend in your amygdala

In a social situation the amygdala processes reactions to violations concerning personal space. These reactions are absent in persons in whom the amygdala is damaged. Furthermore, the amygdala is found to be activated in when people observe that others are physically close to them, such as when a person being brain scanned knows that an experimenter is standing immediately next to the scanner, versus standing at a distance.

Behold the next big thing in social networking…the amygdala!

In interesting research published recently in the Journal, Nature Neuroscience  it has been shown that the size of your amygdala correlates with the size of your social network – taking the role of the amygdala in social interaction to another level. As a social species a larger amygdala gives us more options to manage our complex social lives – helping us to get along while getting ahead.

Thus jobs involving meeting people such as shopkeepers – who may interact with hundreds people including customers, suppliers and employes in an average day – will develop a larger and more intricately wired amygdala than say someone in solitary confinement.

All this points back to a fundamental finding in neuroscience – your brain is plastic.  So the message is simple – you need to meet as many people as possible if you want a rich and varied social life. You may not get along with everyone but as you learn and persist your amygdala will become your very own on-board social satnav.