Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed the Physical Source of Consciousness

Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed the Physical Source of Consciousness

Human consciousness is perhaps one of the most complicated puzzles that scientists have been struggling to put together for ages. Even though we’ve advanced an incredible amount in science, we still have yet to get a grasp on it. But believe it or not, scientists may have pinpointed the physical origins of human consciousness.

There are three regions that are coming out as crucial to consciousness. A team of researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School have been working hard to pin it down.

Michael Fox, a lead researcher, said, “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness.” He went on to say, “A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”

Science says that consciousness is made up of arousal and awareness. It has already been shown that arousal is normally regulated by the brainstem or the portion of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord. It helps us sleep and wake up using our breathing and heart rate. Awareness hasn’t been as easy to pin down.

For quite a while, scientists thought that it might lay somewhere within the outer layer of the brain known as the cortex. But much to their surprise, two cortex regions in the brain are appearing to work as a team in order to make up human consciousness.

But how did they figure this out?

Well, 36 patients in a hospital with brain lesions were studied. 12 of them were unconscious or in a coma and 24 of them were conscious. They were analyzed to figure out why some patients had stayed conscious while others were unconscious, though they had similar injuries.

The rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum is a small area of the brainstem and was found to be associated with unconsciousness. 10 our or 12 unconscious individuals had damage in this area of the brain where only 1 out of the 24 conscious patients did. This means that this portion of the brain is important when it comes to consciousness.

Researchers then looked at the connectome, also known as a brain map, to see all the various connections in our brains. Two specific areas were connected to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum. One of them was located in the ventral anterior insula and the other in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex. In previous studies, both these areas have been known to play some part in arousal and awareness, but never before had they been connected to the brainstem.

More studies were conducted, all with the same conclusions:

“This is the most relevant if we can use these networks as a target for brain stimulation for people with disorders of consciousness,” said Michael Fox. This study could eventually lead to new treatments for individuals who are in comas or those who have healthy brains and can’t regain consciousness.

“If we zero in on the regions and network involved, can we someday wake someone up who is in a persistent vegetative state? That’s the ultimate question.”

This research could lead to a whole new world of possibilities in medical science.

Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to cure someone who’s been in a coma for years. But for now, this is the beginning of exciting new medical developments in science.

Neuroscience Reveals the Secret Behind How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things

Neuroscience Reveals the Secret Behind How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things

Bad things happen to everyone. But how we react to the bad things in life reveals a lot about our brains. It might be obvious, but people who are happier are better able to regulate their emotions when dealing with unpleasant events.

How? There are a few theories.

One is that happier people are able to focus on positive things and filter out the negative. Another reason is that happier people could be better at savouring good moments and emotions to help them deal with negative events.

But why does this matter? Because this has implications for your perspective on life. Is it better to ignore the negatives, or strengthen your ability to focus on the good while acknowledging the bad?

Activity in the amygdala

The answer may lie in the amygdala—the primitive “fear centre” of the brain, which is always on the lookout for potential threats. In some people, increased amygdala activity has been linked to depression and anxiety.

That’s what psychologists William Cunningham at the University of Toronto and Alexander Todorov of Princeton University are exploring with their colleagues.

However it’s not just the “fear center” that they’re interested in. They’ve discovered a whole new amygdala—one they believe holds the key to human connection, compassion, and happiness. According to their research, the happiest people don’t ignore threats. They just might be better at seeing the good.

Happy people take the good with the bad

Cunningham and Kirkland recorded the amygdala activity of 42 participants as they viewed series of positive, negative, and neutral pictures. Participants also filled out surveys to determine their subjective happiness levels.

When compared with less-happy people, the researchers found that happier people had greater amygdala activation in response to positive photographs. But they did not have a decreased response to negative images, as would be predicted by the “rose-colored glasses” view of happiness.

According to the paper, this suggests that “happier people are not necessarily naïve or blind to negativity, but rather may respond adaptively to the world, recognizing both good and bad things in life.”

This is interesting because it suggests that being able to sense and respond to negative information may actually be an important component of happiness. The authors’ conclusion from this study: “Happy people are joyful, yet balanced.”

Continue the conversation

Our parent site, Ideapod, is a social network for idea sharing. It’s a place for you to explore ideas, share your own and come up with new perspectives, meeting like minded idea sharers in the process.

Here are some conversations happening on happiness on Ideapod.

Neuroscience Shows Your Brain Can Literally Be On The Same Wavelength as Someone Else

Neuroscience Shows Your Brain Can Literally Be On The Same Wavelength as Someone Else

I’m sure we’ve all felt that we’ve “clicked” with someone or were on the same “wave length”. Our everyday language is full of these kind of expressions, but is it just a manner of speaking? Not quite, according to Princeton University neuroscientist Uri Hasson. 

He has found that human brains can literally “tune” into each other through a process called “brain coupling”.

The Research

Hasson and his team looked at brain scans of a person telling a story and another person listening to it.

Even though one person was listening and the other person was speaking (two very different brain functions), they found that the wavelengths of each brain came out incredibly similar. What’s even more amazing is that the more similar the brainwaves were, the better the understanding was between the two!

According to the study:

“Sometimes when you speak with someone, you get the feeling that you cannot get through to them, and other times you know that you click. When you really understand each other, your brains become more similar in responses over time.”

While there’s still a lot that needs to be learned, this is a wonderful confirmation of the “gut instinct” you get when you’re around certain people – you really “can be on the same wavelength!”

To understand more about this phenomenon, check out the amazing Ted talk below:

Brain Scans Show The Real Impact Love Has On A Child’s Brain

Brain Scans Show The Real Impact Love Has On A Child’s Brain

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. But being a nurturing mother is not just about emotional care – it pays dividends by determining the size of your child’s brain, scientists say.

Shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause – the way were treated by their mothers.

Shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause – the way were treated by their mothers.

Both of these images are brain scans of  two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.

But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.

Babies’ brains grow and develop as they interact with their environment and learn how to function within it.

When babies’ cries bring food or comfort, they are strengthening the neuronal pathways that help them learn how to get their needs met, both physically and emotionally. But babies who do not get responses to their cries, and babies whose cries are met with abuse, learn different lessons.

The neuronal pathways that are developed and strengthened under negative conditions prepare children to cope in that negative environment, and their ability to respond to nurturing and kindness may be impaired.

According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right in the image above worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathize with others.

This type of severe, global neglect can have devastating consequences. The extreme lack of stimulation may result in fewer neuronal pathways available for learning.

The lack of opportunity to form an attachment with a nurturing caregiver during infancy may mean that some of these children will always have difficulties forming meaningful relationships with others. But studies have also found that time played a factor – children who were adopted as young infants have shown more recovery than children who were adopted as toddlers.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Some of the specific long-term effects of abuse and neglect on the developing brain can include:

  • Diminished growth in the left hemisphere, which may increase the risk for depression
  • Irritability in the limbic system, setting the stage for the emergence of panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Smaller growth in the hippocampus and limbic abnormalities, which can increase the risk for dissociative disorders and memory impairments
  • Impairment in the connection between the two brain hemispheres, which has been linked to symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.

And sadly there is a chance they may never develop and come into existence.

These has concerning implications for neglected children that are taken into care past the age of two.

It also seems that the more severe the mother’s neglect, the more pronounced the damage can be.

The images also have worrying consequences for the childhood neglect cycle – often parents who, because their parents neglected them, do not have fully developed brains, neglect their own children in a similar way.

But research in the U.S. has shown the cycle can be successfully broken if early intervention is staged and families are supported.

The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The experiences of infancy and early childhood provide the organizing framework for the expression of children’s intelligence, emotions, and personalities.

When those experiences are primarily negative, children may develop emotional, behavioral, and learning problems that persist throughout their lifetime, especially in the absence of targeted interventions.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.


You Are More Likely to Die Young If You’re Always Happy, According to Science

You Are More Likely to Die Young If You’re Always Happy, According to Science

So many of us seek happiness as our greatest goal in life. What if I told you that trying to be happy was making you unhappy?

New research is starting to show us that the pursuit of happiness is getting the way of actually being happy.

How can this be?

It’s because we often find what we’re looking for. Science calls this “confirmation bias”, and it’s based on the principle that the brain looks for evidence that fits with its mental model of the world.

So if you’re constantly aiming to be happy, you’re creating a belief system that you’re not currently happy and you need something different in your life to attain happiness.

What’s the alternative? Embrace mindfulness in the present moment, which is about accepting and observing your feelings without judging them or needing them to be positive or happy.

Here’s some articles on embracing mindfulness in the present moment:

The science of emotional diversity

People who show a full range of emotions, such as anger, worry and sadness, are actually healthier than those whose range tends to be mostly on the positive side. This has been demonstrated by studies that show that overly pursuing happiness can be detrimental to your health.

In a study of over 35,000 people, researchers that people demonstrating high emotional diversity were less likely to be depressed than people who consistently only show positive emotion alone.

In another study of 1,300 people, the people showing greater emotional diversity used fewer medications, didn’t go to the doctor as often, exercised more and at better than those with a more limited emotional range.

It turns out that striving to be happy all of the time affects our creativity levels. One study showed that when we experience extreme or intense happiness, we tend to lose our connection to creativity.

There’s another study that has found those on the high end of always being happy tend to be less flexible in adapting to challenging situations. It’s more difficult for these people to adjust. Also, they are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity or take extra risks to pursue pleasurable feelings. In fact, children who were regarded as “highly cheerful” are more likely to die at a younger age due to riskier behavior.

What you can do

Now that you’ve read about some of the research suggesting that striving to be happy can be bad for your health, what can you do next?

It doesn’t mean that happiness is a bad thing. Rather, it’s important to let the feelings of happiness emerge naturally. If you’re genuinely feeling happy, then feel it!

But if you’re feeling sad or angry, then feel that too.

Don’t place so much judgement on yourself for whatever you’re feeling. Nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so.

Here are some more articles you may enjoy reading on mindfulness and happiness.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.

The Neuroscience Behind Why Introverts Might Think Too Much

The Neuroscience Behind Why Introverts Might Think Too Much

We’ve come to understand that both introverts and extroverts do things differently. Extroverts tend to speak their mind and have no problem expressing their feelings to a large group of people. Introverts on the other hand appear to be more reserved, think clearly before speaking and obtain energy from doing independent activities.

A particularly interesting area to study is how the brain works differently for both ends of the spectrum. German psychologist Hans Eysenck researchezxd the brain of an introvert and found that introvert’s have naturally high cortical arousal, meaning their ability to process information per second is higher than the average extrovert.

For an introvert in a heavily stimulated environment, such as large groups of people with loud noises and movements, they will most likely get more overwhelmed and exhausted from the brain’s cortical activity.

The definition of introverts can be hard to describe; however, it’s not to be confused with people who are shy. Some introverts love hanging out in big groups and have confidence in speaking aloud but there’s just a few things that introverts seem to have stronger traits in.

Here are the five traits you see in introverts

They’re Deep Thinkers

Introverts do a LOT of thinking. They have monologues in their minds about situations and go deep into complexities about things which often ends up being unnecessary. They like to contemplate multiple scenarios and work out solutions for each. Good amounts of an introvert’s day is spent on thinking deeply.

They Analyze Experiences

Adding to the deep thinking, a lot of analysis comes to play with past, present and future experiences. Introverts take facts and experiences from the past and link them with new facts and experiences. They like to be nostalgic but also like to prepare for the future from learning from the past. They like to draw a big picture in the heads to see how things connect, using a lot of problem solving skills.

They Look at Multiple Perspectives

Introverts don’t tend to be the loud one in the group, they tend to do a lot of observing when other people speak. Observations of social situations on how people react and perceive is a strong feature of an introvert’s personality. They quickly learn multiple ways of seeing things, and tend to know how to adapt themselves to better communicate with others.

They are Naturally Empathetic

As patient and active listeners, an introvert is someone that will offer great comfort and support when others are down. They are empathetic and accepting of others, and have realistic answers to solve problems.

Originally published on The Power of Ideas.