Research by Cornell food scientists reveals how a person’s emotional state affects the perception of taste. In particular, people in negative emotional states tend to crave sweets more than those in a positive frame of mind.
Victory was sweet for the U.S. Women’s World Cup team 5-2 victory this weekend — but it’s a safe bet that the vanquished team from Japan was reaching for actual sweets after the stunning upset.
Research by Cornell food scientists reveals how a person’s emotional state — particularly in the competitive, wide world of sports — affects the perception of taste. In particular, people in negative emotional states tend to crave sweets more than those in a positive frame of mind.
“We determined how emotions arising from the outcome of college hockey games influenced the perception of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savory) taste, … in addition to hedonic responses ¬- or how much they liked or disliked the foods,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dando, who with Corinna Noel, a doctoral student in food science, published “The Effect of Emotional State on Taste Perception” in the journal Appetite, June 27.
“Emotional manipulations in the form of pleasantly or unpleasantly perceived real-life events can influence the perception of taste, driving the acceptability of foods,” said Dando. “These results imply that such modulation of taste perception could promote emotional eating in times of negative emotion.”
The study shows that emotions experienced in everyday life can alter the hedonic experience of less-palatable food, implying a link to emotional eating, according to the researchers. Dando explained, “In times of negative affect, foods of a less pleasurable nature become even more unappealing to taste, as more hedonically pleasing foods remain pleasurable.
“This is why when the team wins, we’re okay with our regular routine foods, but when they lose, we’ll be reaching for the ice cream.”
Married at First Sight, Channel 4’s “social experiment” reality show which asks whether “science can help to create a successful relationship and if the act of marriage itself helps create a psychological bond that leads to true and enduring love” is about to air in the UK.
Like its sister shows in Denmark, the US and Australia, it’s the latest in a series of reality television programmes to use the format of arranged marriage to place lovelorn singles in hothouse situations for our entertainment.
But this time, instead of simply being offered romantic suspense, emotional stress and gendered humiliation, we’re being asked to view this as a legitimate social experiment. This is scientific research – and the show’s producers have hired relationship experts to oversee and legitimise it.
For each series, the relationship experts match up heterosexual couples using various forms of psychological and neurological testing – basing their selection on their personal and social history. The couples they match will marry, go on honeymoon and move in together while being recorded continuously – with the option of deciding to separate if they change their minds within five weeks. The television channel recently announced some of the volunteers who will shortly be getting married.
Entertainment guinea pigs
Channel 4’s experiment is one that would be highly unlikely to pass muster with any human research ethics committee.
The experts, who gather data from participants to match couples and then interpret their ongoing interactions, come from a variety of disciplines including evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience, psychotherapy and clinical psychology. All of these are professions that require members to uphold standards of human research ethics that include preventing social and psychological harm and avoiding conflicts of interest.
But as per the formula of most reality television, participants are deliberately stressed and exposed, with the data gathered by each researcher publicly interpreted for our entertainment. There is a conflict of interest between the needs of the show’s producers for the largest audience possible and the needs of the participants to be protected from psychological harm.
There is also a conflict of interest between the role of each expert as scientist, consultant, and television performer.
While the contestants will have undoubtedly signed detailed consent forms, this in no way overrides the experts’ own professional obligations to conduct research that complies with the ethical guidelines set for their industries. That’s what guidelines for ethical research practice are there for; to protect participants from voluntarily consenting to experiments that may prove to be harmful.
In the case of reality television, because it’s marketed as “light entertainment”, sometimes masked as social experimentation to give it an air of credibility, we can be persuaded to see it as a matter for ethical debate rather than professional sanction.
Professor Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist known for the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment in the early 1970s and past president of the American Psychological Association, has had significant input in the design of reality television programme the Human Zoo. According to Zimbardo, shows such as Survivor, where contestants are marooned on an island and have to feed and shelter themselves while competing in challenges, promote “the worst aspects of human behaviour and the wrong human values.” Human Zoo, however, which used candid-camera style filming to observe human behaviour and social interaction between a group of strangers, was a more responsible and positive demonstration of psychological ideas.
Zimbardo has described the role of the media as a “gatekeeper between psychology and the public”. I’m not sure how we can expect the media to act as a gatekeeper for the public. Aside from dubious ethical standards, what about the people who have experienced significant negative impacts from appearing in such shows and the poor track record for research ethics in reality television to date? It appears that when it comes to televised radical social experiments, both participants and the public are to be left to protect themselves.
As reality television begins to position itself beyond the realm of simple voyeurism and ventures into the territory of legitimate social research without the ethical oversight, perhaps the place for complaints about the process is not only the television networks themselves but also the various member associations of the contributing expert consultants, who are accountable to the public for the ethical practice of their members and have dedicated professional conduct committees whose role is to hear and respond to complaints about the practices of their members.
Participant complaints could have a significant impact on the process of making experimental television. But in the case of the current crop of new reality shows, we have yet to find out.
Anesthesia makes otherwise painful procedures possible by derailing a conscious brain, rendering it incapable of sensing or responding to a surgeon’s knife. But little research exists on what happens when the drugs wear off.
“I always found it remarkable that someone can recover from anesthesia, not only that you blink your eyes and can walk around, but you return to being yourself. So if you learned how to do something on Sunday and on Monday, you have surgery, and you wake up and you still know how to do it,” says Alexander Proekt, a visiting fellow in Don Pfaff’sLaboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University and an anesthesiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. “It seemed like there ought to be some kind of guide or path for the system to follow.”
The obvious explanation is that as the anesthetic washes out of the body, electrical activity in the brain gradually returns to its conscious patterns. However, new research by Proekt and colleagues suggests the trip back is not so simple.
“Using statistical analysis, our research shows that the recovery from deep anesthesia is not a smooth, linear process. Instead, there are dynamic ‘way stations’ or states of activity the brain must temporarily occupy on the way to full recovery,” Pfaff says. “These results have implications for understanding how someone’s ability to recover consciousness can be disrupted by, for example, brain injury.”
Proekt, along with former postdoc Andrew Hudson, now an assistant professor in anesthesiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Diany Paola Calderon, a research associate in the lab, put rats “under” using the common medical and veterinary anesthetic isoflurane. As the rats recovered, the team monitored the electrical potential outside neurons, known as local field potentials (LFPs), in particular parts of the brain known, from previous elecrophysiological and pharmacological studies, to be associated with wakefulness and anesthesia. These recordings gave them a sensitive handle on the activities of whole groups of neurons in particular parts of the thalamus and cortex.
In the awake brain, of both humans and rats, neurons generate electrical voltage that oscillates. Many of these oscillations together form a signal that appears as a squiggly line on a recording of brain activity, such as an LFP. When someone is asleep, under anesthesia, or in a coma, these oscillations occur more slowly, or at a low frequency. When he or she is awake, they speed up. The researchers examined the recordings from the rats’ brains to figure out how the electrical activity in these regions changed as they moved from anesthetized to awake.
“Recordings from each animal wound up having particular features that spontaneously appeared, suggesting their brain activity was abruptly transitioning through particular states,” Hudson says. “We analyzed the probability of a brain jumping from one state to another, and we found that certain states act as hubs through which the brain must pass to continue on its way to consciousness.” While the electrical activity in all the rats’ brains passed through these hubs, the precise path back to consciousness was not the same each time, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“These results suggest there is indeed an intrinsic way in which the unconscious brain finds its way back to consciousness. The anesthetic is just a tool for severely reducing brain activity in a way in which we can control,” Hudson says.
In other scenarios, including coma caused by brain injury or neurological disease, the disruption to brain activity cannot be controlled, making these states much more difficult to study. However, the team’s results may help explain what is going on in these cases. “Maybe a pathway has shut down, or a brain structure that was key for full consciousness is no longer working. We don’t know yet, but our results suggest the possibility that under certain circumstances, someone may be theoretically capable of returning to consciousness but, due to the inability to transition through the hubs we have identified, his or her brain is unable to navigate the way back,” Calderon says.
Editors note: Original publication can be found here.
Created by Jason Silva in collaboration with CITIZEN.
This video is a non-commercial work created to inspire, made for educational purposes, inspired by the ideas of Douglas Hofstadter explored in the magnificent book GODEL, ESCHER, BACH: An Eternal Golden Braid.
“You know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your whole life” – The Matrix
It is also inspired by some of the writing of Erik Davis in Techgnosis.com about the hero’s journey taken by NEO in the Matrix in order to understand who he is:
“Neo must then face his own Cartesian “passage through madness,” melting into a mirror that alludes not only to Lewis Carroll but to the mystic-psychotic collapse and disappearance of the externalized ego that stabilizes our inner void. As Neo phases out of the Matrix, he opens up, however briefly, the fractured bardo that is the secret thrill of every fan of the “false reality” genre: the moment when baseline reality dissolves but no new world has yet emerged in its pixelating wake. This is the most radical moment of the cogito, but it’s tough to sustain.”
It features the track “The Awakening” by Andy Quinn
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Select stock footage courtesy of Shutterstock
Edited by Citizen
Select Motion graphics by Alberto Reyes
Featuring archival footage by:
by David Wilder,
Discover Magazine reports that a group of scientists are working on a brand new form of brain mapping. The $30 million Human Connectome Project will provide a model showing the main neural pathways that link the 500 major areas of the brain in an attempt to show how our biological hardwiring controls our mental activity.
The following statement from the Human Connectome Project website might titillate your inner scientist: “Navigate the brain in a way that was never before possible; fly through major brain pathways, compare essential circuits, zoom into a region to explore the cells that comprise it, and the functions that depend on it.”
MRI scans of 1,200 people, including 300 pairs of twins, will be compiled to develop a blueprint of neural pathways. This model will show how brain connectivity differs from person to person.
These scans will achieve a rough resolution of about one millimeter (0.04 inch), comparable to mapping the world’s highways while omitting local streets. However, if the project is successful it will provide the first type of global brain mapping available to scientists, and would be a major breakthrough in understanding how the physical makeup of the brain relates to consciousness.
“Until now we’ve had only a fragmentary understanding of who is talking to whom in the brain,” says David Van Essen of Washington University St. Louis, one of the project’s principal investigators. “It was a lot of noisy information.”
The total amount of data that the project will generate is estimated to be one million gigabytes, comprised of imaging scans, genetic analysis, and behavioral tests. This data will demonstrate the effect that a person’s brain connectivity has on his or her mental abilities, including memory, self-control, and decision making.
Van Essen believes that individual connectome mapping could assist the treatment of mental disorders. Instead of generating a blanket diagnosis of autism or schizophrenia, a neurologist could observe abnormal brain circuitry to provide a specialized regimen of therapy or medication.
The scans featured on the gallery section of the Human Connectome Project website could be considered an art form, similar to the multi-layered representations of human anatomy painted by visionary artist Alex Grey. Those who appreciate this type of visionary art may find value in looking at these stunning images.
This modern form of brain mapping could prove to be an important step in our effort to learn more about consciousness – where it is located, what it does, and how it behaves. The Human Connectome Project will undoubtedly become an important part of the human experience.
Source: Reality Sandwich Image credit