Neuroscience: Exposure to Cortisol-Like Medications Before Birth May Contribute to Emotional Problems and Brain Changes
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I only drink champagne on two occassions. When I am in love and when I’m not.
—Coco Chanel (via glamour)
Refugees in Turkey, crushed by hardship, tell of an even worse situation back home.
Read more. [Image: Zain Karam/Reuters]
It has been 60 years since scientists discovered that sodium channels create the electrical impulses crucial to the function of nerve, brain, and heart cells — all of which are termed “excitable.” Now researchers at Yale and elsewhere are discovering that sodium channels also play key roles in so-called non-excitable cells.
In the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Neuron, Yale neuroscientists Stephen Waxman and Joel Black review nearly a quarter-century of research that shows sodium channels in cells that do not transmit electrical impulses may nonetheless play a role in immune system function, migration of cells, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.
“This insight has opened up new avenues of research in a variety of pathologies,” Waxman said.
For instance, Waxman’s lab has begun to study the functional role of voltage-gated sodium channels in non-excitable glial cells within the spinal cord and brain. They are currently investigating whether sodium channels in these non-excitable cells may participate in the formation of glial scars, thereby inhibiting regeneration of nerve cells after traumatic injury to the spinal cord or brain.
I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight. I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence. A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.
—Pema Chodron (via lazyyogi)
Die each moment so that you can be new each moment.
—Osho (via lazyyogi)
Egoism and narcissism appear to be on the rise in our society, while empathy is on the decline. And yet, the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes is extremely important for our coexistence. A research team headed by Tania Singer from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences has discovered that our own feelings can distort our capacity for empathy. This emotionally driven egocentricity is recognised and corrected by the brain. When, however, the right supramarginal gyrus doesn’t function properly or when we have to make particularly quick decisions, our empathy is severely limited.
When assessing the world around us and our fellow humans, we use ourselves as a yardstick and tend to project our own emotional state onto others. While cognition research has already studied this phenomenon in detail, nothing is known about how it works on an emotional level. It was assumed that our own emotional state can distort our understanding of other people’s emotions, in particular if these are completely different to our own. But this emotional egocentricity had not been measured before now.
This is precisely what the Max Planck researchers have accomplished in a complex marathon of experiments and tests. They also discovered the area of the brain responsible for this function, which helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people. The area in question is the supramarginal gyrus, a convolution of the cerebral cortex which is approximately located at the junction of the parietal, temporal and frontal lobe. “This was unexpected, as we had the temporo-parietal junction in our sights. This is located more towards the front of the brain,” explains Claus Lamm, one of the publication’s authors.
On the empathy trail with toy slime and synthetic fur
Using a perception experiment, the researchers began by showing that our own feelings actually do influence our capacity for empathy, and that this egocentricity can also be measured. The participants, who worked in teams of two, were exposed to either pleasant or unpleasant simultaneous visual and tactile stimuli.
While participant 1, for example, could see a picture of maggots and feel slime with her hand, participant 2 saw a picture of a puppy and could feel soft, fleecy fur on her skin. “It was important to combine the two stimuli. Without the tactile stimulus, the participants would only have evaluated the situation ‘with their heads’ and their feelings would have been excluded,” explains Claus Lamm. The participants could also see the stimulus to which their team partners were exposed at the same time.
The two participants were then asked to evaluate either their own emotions or those of their partners. As long as both participants were exposed to the same type of positive or negative stimuli, they found it easy to assess their partner’s emotions. The participant who was confronted with a stinkbug could easily imagine how unpleasant the sight and feeling of a spider must be for her partner.
Differences only arose during the test runs in which one partner was confronted with pleasant stimuli and the other with unpleasant ones. Their capacity for empathy suddenly plummeted. The participants’ own emotions distorted their assessment of the other person’s feelings. The participants who were feeling good themselves assessed their partners’ negative experiences as less severe than they actually were. In contrast, those who had just had an unpleasant experience assessed their partners’ good experiences less positively.
Particularly quick decisions cause a decline in empathy
The researchers pinpointed the area of the brain responsible for this phenomenon with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging, generally referred to as a brain scanning. The right supramarginal gyrus ensures that we can decouple our perception of ourselves from that of others. When the neurons in this part of the brain were disrupted in the course of this task, the participants found it difficult not to project their own feelings onto others. The participants’ assessments were also less accurate when they were forced to make particularly quick decisions.
Up to now, the social neuroscience models have assumed that we mainly draw on our own emotions as a reference for empathy. This only works, however, if we are in a neutral state or the same state as our counterpart – otherwise, the brain must counteract and correct.
New by Banksy: The Sirens of the Lambs. A slaughterhouse delivery truck filled with stuffed animals touring the meatpacking district in New York!