Hidden Brain is a new podcast from NPR about human behavior. In the latest episode, host Shankar Vedantam points out that sometimes having a back-up plan can actually be bad for you. And if you listen to the end of the episode, you can hear me singing a song about these concepts in the stye of a 90s-era pop-punk band.

Check out the podcast here.

Could You Hack Your Brain To Get More Motivated?

We know we should put the cigarettes away or make use of that gym membership, but in the moment, we just don’t do it. There is a cluster of neurons in our brain critical for motivation, though. What if you could hack them to motivate yourself?

These neurons are located in the middle of the brain, in a region called the ventral tegmental area. A paper published Thursday in the journal Neuron suggests that we can activate the region with a little bit of training.

The researchers stuck 73 people into an fMRI, a scanner that can detect what part of the brain is most active, and focused on that area associated with motivation. When the researchers said “motivate yourself and make this part of your brain light up,” people couldn’t really do it.

“They weren’t that reliable when we said, ‘Go! Get psyched. Turn on your VTA,’ ” says Dr. Alison Adcock, a psychiatrist at Duke and senior author on the paper.

That changed when the participants were allowed to watch a neurofeedback meter that displayed activity in their ventral tegmental area. When activity ramps up, the participants see the meter heat up while they’re in the fMRI tube.

“Your whole mind is allowed to speak to a specific part of your brain in a way you never imagined before. Then you get feedback that helps you discover how to turn that part of the brain up or down,” says John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not involved with the work.

Using an fMRI for this kind of brain feedback is more effective than other, older tools like placing electrodes on the skull or EEG, Gabrieli says. “MRI lets you target a specific brain system or structure. EEG does not. When we’re measuring electrical activity, we don’t know really where it’s coming from.” He says he hasn’t seen compelling evidence that EEG feedback, which is commercially available, has helped people change their behavior.

Two of the researchers, Kathryn Dickerson and Jeff MacInnes, tried the system out on themselves. Not everything worked. Dickerson said she tried thinking about different memories that left the feedback meter cold. “Zip lining was super fun, but [thinking about that] was just terrible and not effective at all.”

So she switched strategies and tried giving herself a pep talk in the scanner. “I was like, 'Come on Katie. Move the thermometer. Just do it and move it.’ And I just pumped myself up. That was very effective,” she says. “It was exhilarating.”

It was also exhausting, MacInnes says. “The experience of the task was very difficult. You’re being asked to generate these intense motivational states for 20 seconds over multiple periods. It was very fatiguing for people.”

Study participants had a similar experience, Adcock says. Some people sang Queen songs to themselves or imagined having an angry coach yell at them. “My personal favorite was running down a line with everyone giving you high-fives,” Adcock says. When she took the feedback meter away, the participants were still able to light up their ventral tegmental area by thinking about the same things.

People really are changing their mood when they’re doing this, Adcock thinks. They’re really becoming more focused and eager. And it seems the effect begins reaching out to parts of the brain involved with learning and memory,

“We think that’s exciting because it shows after this training, something changed, Dickerson says. "The brain isn’t quite the same.” She thinks people might be achieving a state of mind that’s more conducive to learning and motivation.

If that’s true, it would be extraordinarily useful, Gabrieli says. Using MRIs to exert control over certain parts of our brain has been done before, he says. “[But this] is the first study to show it can be applied to the most important brain structure for human motivation. That could be very valuable for things people want to accomplish in life.”

Or it might be applied to habits that are really hard to start or break, Gabrieli says. “The hugely exciting piece of this is whether now people can use this upcoming research to gain control of behaviors that are challenging,” he says. “Healthy habits, eating habits, stopping to smoke and can a person with addiction use this successfully?”

And it might someday be a clinical tool. For instance, this particular cluster of neurons in the midbrain is part of the dopamine system. Adcock thinks activating the neurons in this way might also be releasing dopamine that could replace drug therapy for certain disorders.

“In ADHD, for example, we use stimulants that result in the same kind of release of brain chemicals,” Adcock says. “Does this technique generate that same kind of release of dopamine that a stimulant does? If we teach people to use it successfully, we could impact attention.”

But nobody knows if this actually changes brain chemistry. MacInnes says there are more experiments and tests they need to see if the brain activation they’re seeing actually does release dopamine or other neurochemicals.

Even if it does, Adcock says it’s definitely not affecting neurochemicals as much as a medication like Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD.

And Adcock hasn’t yet studied whether anyone actually changed their behavior after the sessions in the MRI.

Since the study, people have been trying the same strategies to motivate themselves in their daily lives, according to Adcock. If it’s working, brain training in an MRI might be a way for us to tap into our mind’s circuitry for willpower.

That, Gabrieli says, would be terrific.

Image credit: Gary Waters/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Source: NPR (by ANGUS CHEN)
It's mean boys, not mean girls, who rule at school, study shows

Debunking the myth of the “mean girl,” new research from the University of Georgia has found that boys use relational aggression – malicious rumors, social exclusion and rejection – to harm or manipulate others more often than girls.

The longitudinal study, published online in the journal Aggressive Behavior, followed a cohort of students from middle to high school and found that, at every grade level, boys engaged in relationally aggressive behavior more often than girls.

A team led by UGA professor Pamela Orpinas analyzed data collected from 620 students randomly selected from six northeast Georgia school districts. Students who participated in the study completed yearly surveys, which allowed the UGA researchers to identify and group them in distinct trajectories for relational aggression and victimization as they progressed from grade six to 12.

Continue Reading.

Barbara Brennan - The Seven Layer Auric  Body System, “Hand of Light”, 1987.

The human Energy Field (a.k.a Biofield, Aura or Subtle Body) is comprised of several layers of Energy. They are commonly known as the Physical Etheric, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual bodies, PEMS for short. Diagram above shows the Physical Body and each of the 7 Energy layers around it:
1. Etheric (slightly off the Physical Body)
2. Emotional
3. Mental
4. Astral (1st of 4 Spiritual layers)
5. Etheric Template (more subtle 1. Etheric)
6. Celestial (more subtle 2. Emotional)
7. Ketheric (more subtle 3. Mental)

These layers vary in depth, energy and frequency at any given moment in time. They fluctuate in response to our physical health, thoughts and feelings. Thus they are dynamic and ever-changing. The Energy Field (Aura) is usually regarded as a diagnostic tool, with various machines out there that “record” the colors of the Energy Field. Those trained in this modality use this color map as a way to determine what is “wrong” with someone. However, the Energy Field itself can be used as an Energy pathway, using various Vibration Energy Medicine therapies to access and treat the Subtle Bodies. Most people do not know how to work with the Energy Field, but it is a powerful access point for working with the whole human Energy System.


Behavioral Study Tip #1: SWITCH UP YOUR SURROUNDINGS! When you start to slack off/feel a little less productive in your normal study spot, it’s time to find some NOVEL STIMULI!

Today was [surprisingly] my 1st time studying in my university’s underground cafe. It was just what I needed!

Also…there was tea. You can never go wrong with tea. ;)

You’re not irrational, you’re just quantum probabilistic

The next time someone accuses you of making an irrational decision, just explain that you’re obeying the laws of quantum physics.

A new trend taking shape in psychological science not only uses quantum physics to explain humans’ (sometimes) paradoxical thinking, but may also help researchers resolve certain contradictions among the results of previous psychological studies.

According to Zheng Joyce Wang and others who try to model our decision-making processes mathematically, the equations and axioms that most closely match human behavior may be ones that are rooted in quantum physics.

“We have accumulated so many paradoxical findings in the field of cognition, and especially in decision-making,” said Wang, who is an associate professor of communication and director of the Communication and Psychophysiology Lab at The Ohio State University.

“Whenever something comes up that isn’t consistent with classical theories, we often label it as ‘irrational.’ But from the perspective of quantum cognition, some findings aren’t irrational anymore. They’re consistent with quantum theory—and with how people really behave.”

In two new review papers in academic journals, Wang and her colleagues spell out their new theoretical approach to psychology. One paper appears in Current Directions in Psychological Science, and the other in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way­—essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory—enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explained.

For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond—an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as “carry-over effects” and “anchoring and adjustment,” or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, Wang and her collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people’s behavior.

We usually think of quantum physics as describing the behavior of sub-atomic particles, not the behavior of people. But the idea is not so far-fetched, Wang said. She also emphasized that her research program neither assumes nor proposes that our brains are literally quantum computers. Other research groups are working on that idea; Wang and her collaborators are not focusing on the physical aspects of the brain, but rather on how abstract mathematical principles of quantum theory can shed light on human cognition and behaviors.

“In the social and behavioral sciences as a whole, we use probability models a lot,” she said. “For example, we ask, what is the probability that a person will act a certain way or make a certain decision? Traditionally, those models are all based on classical probability theory—which arose from the classical physics of Newtonian systems. So it’s really not so exotic for social scientists to think about quantum systems and their mathematical principles, too.”

Quantum physics deals with ambiguity in the physical world. The state of a particular particle, the energy it contains, its location—all are uncertain and have to be calculated in terms of probabilities.

Quantum cognition is what happens when humans have to deal with ambiguity mentally. Sometimes we aren’t certain about how we feel, or we feel ambiguous about which option to choose, or we have to make decisions based on limited information.

“Our brain can’t store everything. We don’t always have clear attitudes about things. But when you ask me a question, like ‘What do you want for dinner?” I have to think about it and come up with or construct a clear answer right there,” Wang said. “That’s quantum cognition.”

“I think the mathematical formalism provided by quantum theory is consistent with what we feel intuitively as psychologists. Quantum theory may not be intuitive at all when it is used to describe the behaviors of a particle, but actually is quite intuitive when it is used to describe our typically uncertain and ambiguous minds.”

She used the example of Schrödinger’s cat—the thought experiment in which a cat inside a box has some probability of being alive or dead. Both possibilities have potential in our minds. In that sense, the cat has a potential to become dead or alive at the same time. The effect is called quantum superposition. When we open the box, both possibilities are no longer superimposed, and the cat must be either alive or dead.

With quantum cognition, it’s as if each decision we make is our own unique Schrödinger’s cat.

As we mull over our options, we envision them in our mind’s eye. For a time, all the options co-exist with different degrees of potential that we will choose them: That’s superposition. Then, when we zero in on our preferred option, the other options cease to exist for us.

The task of modeling this process mathematically is difficult in part because each possible outcome adds dimensions to the equation. For instance, a Republican who is trying to decide among the candidates for U.S. president in 2016 is currently confronting a high-dimensional problem with almost 20 candidates. Open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel?” have even more possible outcomes and more dimensions.

With the classical approach to psychology, the answers might not make sense, and researchers have to construct new mathematical axioms to explain behavior in that particular instance. The result: There are many classical psychological models, some of which are in conflict, and none of which apply to every situation.

With the quantum approach, Wang and her colleagues argued, many different and complex aspects of behavior can be explained with the same limited set of axioms. The same quantum model that explains how question order changes people’s survey answers also explains violations of rationality in the prisoner’s dilemma paradigm, an effect in which people cooperate even when it’s in their best interest not to do so.

“The prisoner’s dilemma and question order are two completely different effects in classical psychology, but they both can be explained by the same quantum model,” Wang said. “The same quantum model has been used to explain many other seemingly unrelated, puzzling findings in psychology. That’s elegant.”

We eat in restaurants, buy branded toiletries, build skyscrapers, create legislative institutions, travel in flying machines, write poetry, and search for meaning in relationships, temples, and scientific books. Humans have discovered antibiotics, sent probes into space, decimated rainforests, shared a billion views of clips of kitten behaviour, and decoded their own genomes.

But there is one thing that humans have singularly failed to do, and that is to properly understand their own behaviour.

—  Robert Aunger and Valerie Curtis in Gaining Control: How human behavior evolved