What Love Does to Your Brain

June 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Feeling Positive

couplesmashHow Love Lights You Up
When you’re in love your eyes light up, your face lights up and so do four tiny portions of your brain.

Neurobiologists Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College in London used MRI brain scans to peer into the brains of college students in the throes of that crazed, can’t-think-of-anything-else stage of early romantic love.

When the subjects were shown photographs of their sweet hearts, the MRI images showed that four parts of their brains lit up.

The researchers compared the MRI images to brain scans taken from people in different emotional states, including se.xual arousal, feelings of happiness and coc.aine-induced euphoria.

But the pattern for romantic love was unique. Interestingly, looking at a picture of their loved one also reduced activity in three portions of the brain active when one is upset or depressed.

Is Love Addictive?
When you fall in love your skin flushes, you breathe heavy, and your palms tend to sweat.

Why? Because your brain is experiencing a biochemical rush of dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine close chemical cousins to amphetamines.

But it’s easy to build up a tolerance to these stimulating bio-chemicals. Then, as with any other tolerance, it takes more of the substance to get that special feeling of infatuation.

Some neuroscientists theorize that folks who jump from one relationship to another are hooked on the intoxication of falling in love.

But interestingly, in the case of enduring romance, simply the presence of one’s partner stimulates the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the feel good biochemicals also behind the experience of runner’s high, and are natural pain-killers.

The Biology of Romance
Recent research suggests that romantic attraction is actually a primitive, biologically based drive just like hunger or thirst.

The biology of romance helps account for why we might travel cross-country for a single ki.ss, and plunge into hopeless despair if our beloved turns from us. It’s the drive for romance that enables us to focus on one particular person, although we often can’t explain why.

What we’re seeing here is the biological drive to choose a mate, to focus on one person to the exclusion of all others, claims Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University.

Research has proven that romantic attraction activates portions of the brain with high concentrations of receptors for dopamine, Fisher explains. And dopamine is the chemical messenger also tied to states of euphoria, craving and addiction.

Other scientific studies have linked high levels of dopamine and a related agent, norepinephrine to heightened attention and short-term memory, hyperactivity, sleeplessness and goal-oriented behavior.

Sound like love?

When they first fall in love, Fisher explains, couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: Increased energy, less need for sleep or food, and highly focused attention.

The Psychology of Love
Poets and song writers have long claimed that the power of the biochemical state we call romantic love is enough to blind one’s judgment.

We all know how new lovers tend to idealize their partner magnifying their virtues, and explaining away their flaws.

But though love may be blind, take hope.

Pamela Regan, a Cal State LA researcher, believes such idealization may be crucial to a long-term relationship. If you don’t sweep away the person’s flaws to some extent, you’re just as likely to end a relationship, she claims.

This at least gives you a chance, Regan feels. If you think of romantic attraction as a kind of drug that alters how you think, then in this case it’s allowing you to take some risks you wouldn’t otherwise take.

Not a bad thing.

But if passionate romance is like a drug, as the MRI images suggest, then it’s bound to lose its kick. But perhaps viewing romance as a biologically based, drug-like state can at least provide some balm for a broken heart.

Healthy Romanticizing
In a 1996 experiment, psychologists at the State University of New York at Buffalo followed a group of 121 dating couples. Every few months the couples answered questionnaires to find out how much they idealized their partner, and how well their relationship was doing.

The researchers discovered that the couples who idealized each other the most were closest one year later.

The Issue of Self-Love
How does the love of one’s self  also known as a positive self concept or good self-esteem fit into this picture?

Recent research indicates that depressed people who feel ‘unloved’ are 50% more likely to get cancer.

Negativity, fear, anger and depression are not just in your head. They are biochemical states. Remember neuroscience has proven beyond a doubt that we can consciously create the biochemical states known as joy, happiness, motivation, and even ecstasy.

Grow a Better Brain

June 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Mind Stretch

yourgwomamNeed proof your brain can physically grow?

Here it is:

Sixteen London taxi drivers were given brain scans by scientists at the University College London. Each driver had spent about two years memorizing the vast number of streets and routes in London to receive their licenses.

The researchers scanned the part of the driver’s brains associated with navigation in birds and animals a portion of the hippocampus. They also scanned the brains of 50 control subjects who did not drive cabs.

The findings go against the old theory that mature brains do not grow. One particular region of the hippocampus was bigger in the taxi drivers, explains the research team leader, Dr Eleanor Maguire.

There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as taxi drivers, and their brain changes, Dr Maguire explains. The hippocampus actually changed its structure to accommodate their huge amount of navigating experience.

Considering we’ve always been told our brains go downhill after age 30 another result of the research is especially interesting! The scientists also found that the hippocampus grows even larger as drivers spend more years on the job. The hippocampus of seasoned cabbies that had driven 40 years or more was more developed.

This is very interesting, concludes Dr Maguire, because we now see there can be structural changes in healthy human brains after age 30).

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Fake Your Way to Happiness

March 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Feeling Positive


Can you steer your life toward happiness by simply counting your blessings? Maybe. One recent researcher found that people who pause each day to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives (for example: their health, friends, family, education, freedom) are more likely to get happy and experience heightened well-being.

Or if you’re feeling a little down – maybe you can fake your way and get happy too! You may have more control over your mood than you think. According to other new research, people who choose to act more outgoing, happy or assertive actually improve their outlook on life.

In three complementary studies, William Fleeson and colleagues tracked the moods of more than 100 students. In the first study, 46 students kept diaries for approximately two weeks. They reported feeling happy and more positive when they acted outgoing. When acting shy and reserved, their feelings were just the opposite.

The second study looked at long-term effects of acting like an extrovert. Once again, the 10-week study revealed that the 57 students in this portion of the study were more likely to be happy when they acted more extroverted.

In the final study, 47 students were told to act either like an extrovert or introvert during a discussion group. Participants who were energetic and assertive had more fun, were happy, and enjoyed the group — while the passive and shy ones were unhappy in the situation.