How Anti-Depressants Work In The Brain

How Anti-Depressants Work In The Brain

Vollum Institute scientist publishes two papers on neurotransmission in today’s edition of Nature

Research from Oregon Health & Science University’s Vollum Institute, in the November 2013 issue of Nature, (X-ray structure of dopamine transporter elucidates antidepressant mechanism) is giving scientists a never-before-seen view of how nerve cells communicate with each other. The six figures show the mechanics. That new view can give scientists a better understanding of how antidepressants work in the human brain — and could lead to the development of better antidepressants with few or no side effects.

The article in Nature came from the lab of Eric Gouaux, Ph.D., a senior scientist at OHSU’s Vollum Institute and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. The article describes research that gives a better view of the structural biology of a protein that controls communication between nerve cells. The view is obtained through special structural and biochemical methods Gouaux uses to investigate these neural proteins.

The Nature article focuses on the structure of the dopamine transporter, which helps regulate dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter for the human body’s central nervous system; abnormal levels of dopamine are present in a range of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, depression and schizophrenia. Along with dopamine, the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and serotonin are transported by related transporters, which can be studied with greater accuracy based on the dopamine transporter structure.

The Gouaux lab’s more detailed view of the dopamine transporter structure better reveals how antidepressants act on the transporters and thus do their work.

The more detailed view could help scientists and pharmaceutical companies develop drugs that do a much better job of targeting what they’re trying to target — and not create side effects caused by a broader blast at the brain proteins.

“By learning as much as possible about the structure of the transporter and its complexes with antidepressants, we have laid the foundation for the design of new molecules with better therapeutic profiles and, hopefully, with fewer deleterious side effects,” said Gouaux.

Gouaux’s latest dopamine transporter research is also important because it was done using the molecule from fruit flies, a dopamine transporter that is much more similar to those in humans than the bacteria models that previous studies had used.

The dopamine transporter article was one of two articles Gouaux had published in the November 8 edition of Nature. The other article also dealt with a modified amino acid transporter that mimics the mammalian neurotransmitter transporter proteins targeted by antidepressants. It gives new insights into the pharmacology of four different classes of widely used antidepressants that act on certain transporter proteins, including transporters for dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. The second paper in part was validated by findings of the first paper — in how an antidepressant bound itself to a specific transporter.

“What we ended up finding with this research was complementary and mutually reinforcing with the other work — so that was really important,” Gouaux said. “And it told us a great deal about how these transporters work and how they interact with the antidepressant molecules.”

Gouaux’s discoveries over the years in neurotransmission have established him as one of the top investigators in his field. His research has important implications for understanding the mechanisms of not just antidepressants, but also drugs used for the treatment of a wide range of psychiatric and neurological diseases.

Gouaux’s co-authors on the dopamine transporter paper were both members of his lab; Aravind Penmatsa, Ph.D., and Kevin Wang, Ph.D.

Gouaux’s co-authors on the second Nature paper were also members or former members of his lab: Hui Wang, Ph.D.; April Goehring, Ph.D.; Kevin Wang, Aravind Penmatsa and Ryan Ressler, Ph.D.

Both papers were funded by the American Heart Association, the National Institute of Mental Health, (1F32MH093120 and 5R37MH070039) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The Vollum Institute is a privately endowed research institute at OHSU and is dedicated to basic research that will lead to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases. Vollum scientists have transformed the field of neuroscience and, in particular, have been pioneers in the study of cellular signaling, neuronal development, gene regulation and the neurobiology of disease.

Oregon Health & Science University is a nationally prominent research university and Oregon’s only public academic health center.

More on Nature’s “New Angles on the Brain”

2013-11-08_nature_magazine

See also ‘Temple of the mind’ unlocked

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How to Stimulate Your Brain – The Faster ON Switch

How to Stimulate Your Brain – The Faster ON Switch

It is not just the words you speak but the languages you speak as evidenced from a study, conducted in India and published recently in the journal Neurology that switch the brain (b-spot) on faster. Speaking more than one language is a very good thing for our brains.

There’s something special about switching from one language to another in the course of routine communication which switches the brain on faster. “We know from other studies that mental activity has a certain protective effect,” says co-author Thomas Bak, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. “Bilingualism combines a lot of different mental activities. You have to switch sounds, concepts, grammatical structures, cultural concepts. It stimulates your brain all the time.”

How was this discovered? It was discovered by the delay in the onset of dementia. The location of this study was key, because residents of the city, may speak in one language or combination at home and in neighborhoods and another at work or school, all in the course of a normal day, says co-author Suvarna Alladi, a neurologist at Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad.

The researchers found those people had developed their first symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion, at an average age of 65.6 — five years later than the average of 61.1 for people who spoke just one language. The differences were seen in several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia (associated with poor blood flow to the brain) and frontotemporal dementia (caused by degeneration of the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes). The new study is convincing, says Brian Gold, “because it is studying bilingual people raised in the same country and culture.”

All the more good reason, he says, to expose children to language-learning as they grow — and for bilingual families to keep using more than one language in their homes. The news is that intensive language training enhances brain plasticity. 

See more: Dr Thomas Bak, Biligualism

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How To Control Your Mind [Webinar] For “Thinking Geeks Only”

How To Control Your Mind [Webinar]

Where can you get the highest possible return on the time and effort you invest in your life?

Consider the tiny sparks of energy that arced across Isaac Newton’s brain when he realized that the same force pulls an apple to the ground also holds the moon in orbit.

That insight has allowed us to actually fly outside of the atmosphere of our home planet and LAND on the moon.

Newton knew the power of directing his own mind, and he practiced it constantly.

How about when Steve Jobs and friends realized that they could build a small computer in their garage, and sell it to people who wanted to have one in their own homes?

Or the Google Guys realizing that you could look at how many websites were linked to a website, and use that as the basis for search results?

Or the creators of Twitter letting you only put 140 characters in a message, but allowing you to follow as many other people as you want?

After studying how hundreds of the most successful geniuses think and approach life, I’ve discovered important patterns in how they think and create.

And this isn’t just about “focused thinking” or “logic.”

You can focus all day, and be the most logical person on the planet, but if you haven’t learned the correct patterns to use in your mind, and then practiced them together… you can think for a hundred years and not come up with an insight that will help you succeed in your business or your life.

In order to think like a genius, and get the massive results that the world’s most creative and innovative people get, you must learn to control your mind on many levels, as well.

You must learn to control the focus of your mind (the b-spot), the patterns of your thought, and the content of your thinking – and do them together.

This webinar will show you how to do just that.

It’s an introduction to what I call “Mind Control” and for the first time ever in a free webinar I’m going to show you how I do it.

A warning, just in case it isn’t obvious: This is for serious “thinking geeks only.” If you’re an information and creativity junky, then this is definitely for you!

Inside this training, you’ll learn:

*What prevents us from using our minds to our highest potentials – and how to move past this limiting pattern

*How to keep your focused and thinking on- track in the face of increasing distraction and increasing opportunity

*3 new thinking tools to use in order to actually pattern your mind to operate more efficiently – especially in the areas of business and personal success

*How our defense mechanisms prevent us from recognizing the massive opportunities that are all around us – and what to do about it

*How to identify the “upstream causes” of success in your life, and increase THEM… so that your success increases automatically

*The single most powerful shift you can make in your mind, that “trickles down” and changes literally everything about how you think and behave

*…and much more.

How To Control Your Mind (check back for replay link) webinar presented by Eben Pagan.

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Nice idea: Program your mind, while sleeping(?!)

I really like this idea…

“Programming your mind, while you’re asleep.”

Imagine playing special recordings that contain millions of affirmations, on repeat, while you snooze at night.

Allowing them to sink into your subconscious, and influence your confidence levels, your weight, your relationships…

Imagine if a simple CD recording could help you become a more positive thinker, or less stressed in your daily life.

Well, thousands across the globe are doing this already. It’s called “Sleep Programming”.

It’s been proven to work during a study at San Diego University, and the US Government previously used this to help train new military recruits. (I know it’s hard to believe but it is true!)

To learn more about this “Sleep Programming”, click the image or here on this link

sleep-programming

To be clear, this is an affiliate link, so I’ll earn a small commission when you buy. But I’m sharing this with you because I think that the concept is interesting, and you might just want to experiment with it yourself.

Put Your B-Spot to work while you sleep!

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The B-Spot and HAPPINESS

“The neurons that fire together, wire together.”

“It’s a classic saying, and it’s widely accepted because it’s very true,” neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, tells The Huffington Post. “The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength –- that happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”

But on a day to day basis, most of us don’t stay with our positive experiences long enough for them to be encoded into neural structure (meaning there’s not enough wiring and firing going on). On the other hand, we naturally tend to fixate on negative experiences. Positive and negative emotions use different memory systems in the brain, according to Hanson, and positive emotions don’t transfer as easily to long-term memory.

Hanson argues that the problem is we’re wired to scout for the bad stuff — as he puts it, the brain is like velcro for negative experience and teflon for positive ones. This “negativity bias” causes the brain (the b-spot) to react very intensely to bad news, compared to how it responds to good news — research has even shown that strong, long-lasting relationships require a five to one ratio of positive to negative interactions in order to thrive, by virtue of the fact that the negative interactions affect us so much more strongly. The brain has evolved to be constantly scanning for threats, and when it finds one, to isolate it and lose sight of the big picture, according to Hanson.

“We’ve got this negativity bias that’s a kind of bug in the stone-age brain in the 21st century,” he says. “It makes it hard for us to learn from our positive experiences, even though learning from your positive experiences is the primary way to grow inner strength.”

The way to “hardwire happiness” into the brain (the b-spot) , then, is to take in the good — being present to life’s tiny, joyful moments.

“[Lingering on the positive] improves the encoding of passing mental states into lasting neural traits,” says Hanson. “That’s the key here: we’re trying to get the good stuff into us. And that means turning our passing positive experiences into lasting emotional memories.”

Hanson shared some of neuropsychology’s best secrets for overcoming your negativity bias and hardwiring happiness into the brain, optimizing your potential for joy.

Take in the good.

We all encounter positive moments each day, and no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they are, they can be instrumental in changing our perspective. But in order to do so, we must take the time to appreciate these moments of joy and increase their intensity and duration by lingering on them for longer, effectively “wiring” them into our brains.

“People don’t recognize the hidden power of everyday experiences,” says Hanson. “We’re surrounded by opportunities — 10 seconds here or 20 seconds there — to just register useful experiences and learn from them. People don’t do that when they could.”

When you appreciate and maximize the small, positive experiences, he says, “increasingly there’s a sense of being filled up already inside, or already feeling safe inside, or already feeling loved and liked and respected. So we have less of a sense of striving … Insecurity falls away because you’ve got the good stuff inside of yourself.”

Focus on the positive experiences with the greatest personal impact.

Certain experiences will have a greater positive effect depending on your individual negativity bias at the time. For instance, if you’re worried about a health scare, you need experiences that address this worry — so rather than seeking success or praise at work, you’d want to look for things that gave you a sense of safety or a feeling of wellness.

“You want experiences that are matched to your problem, like matching the medicine to the illness,” Hanson says.

We have three fundamental needs for safety, satisfaction and connection, he explains. So if you have a safety-related issue like a health scare, you’d want to seek positive experiences that boost your feelings in that sector. If the issue is connection-related, you should focus on small moments of positive interaction with others. And if you’re anxious and feeling threatened, it would help to feel stronger and more protected inside.

Be on your own side.

An essential ingredient of happiness, as research has recently reaffirmed, is setting an intention for joy and then insisting upon it.

“We don’t get on our own side; we don’t take a stand in which we are for ourselves, and that’s foundational,” says Hanson. “There’s a joke in the therapy world: ‘How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.’ It’s lame, and it’s profound, because right there is square one.”

He explains that if someone we love is upset or worried, we try to help them move beyond that state of mind. But when we are upset or worried ourselves, we often don’t help ourselves the same way. Instead, we tend to stay upset and ruminate over things longer than we need to.

Maintain a sense of wonder.

Einstein once said, “He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.” And when it comes to taking in the good, a sense of wonder is key. Experiencing moments as fresh and new, with a childlike awe, allows them to stick in the brain for longer, potentially becoming part of our lasting emotional memory.

“The more that things seem fresh and new, the more that you’re looking at them with beginner’s mind or child’s mind, that’s going to increase brain structure because the brain is always looking for what’s new,” Hanson says.

Open your eyes and look around.

The secret to bliss could be as simple (and extraordinarily difficult) as paying attention. Mindfulness — the cultivation of a focused awareness on the present moment, developed through practices like meditation and deep breathing — is perhaps our greatest tool when it comes to increasing our capacity for happiness.

“I think of attention as the combination of spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it illuminates what it rests upon, and then shuuup! It sucks it into our brain.,” Hanson says. “The problem is, most people don’t have very good control over that spotlight, and they have a hard time pulling it away from what’s not helpful.”

It can be very difficult to pull our attention away from the negative, which can take the form of rumination, self-criticism, obsession and anxiety, according to Hanson. But one way to change this, and to create more lasting positive memories in the brain (the b-spot) , is to make a concerted effort to notice those little, everyday pleasant encounters: A smile from a stranger, a small gesture of caring from a friend or a little personal victory.

“Mindfulness is a great way to get control over your spotlight,” explains Hanson, who is also a longtime meditation teacher and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. “It can help you stay with — for 10 or 20 seconds at a time — these positive experiences, and it can help you be present in your own life, so that you’re showing up for the good experiences that are here for you.”

The b-spot can be Re-wired for Happiness!

Source: The Huffington Post Oct 17 2013

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This is Your Brain on Love (and Hate)

This is Your Brain on Love (and Hate)

The feelings that you experience when you fall in and out of love stem from love bio-chemicals. These love bio-chemicals are brain neuro-chemicals that generate tell-tale symptoms familiar to anyone in the beginning or end of an intimate relationship. Dopamine and Norepinephrine are the hidden motivators that drive your “crazy” behavior and obsessive thinking when you are maneuvering through the rapture of limerence or heartbreak of a romantic relationship.

The b-spot love bio-chemicals spike when you are pursuing a hot new or soon-to-be lost lover. The b-spot love bio-chemicals then deplete when your efforts become futile. Your b-spot brain is biologically designed to seek the reward of love and when you don’t get it, feel depressed.

Dr. Andra Brosh prepared these three research-based facts on Your Brain in Love :

1) PAIN: The same part of the brain that gets activated with physical pain also lights up with social and love rejection. This means that your body doesn’t know the difference between when you touch a hot stove or have been dumped by your partner. All you will know is that you are in pain, and it will feel like it will last forever. So next time you tell yourself that you shouldn’t be so upset about a lost love, remember that your brain is signaling your body and you need to listen.

2) ADDICTION: When you first “fall” for a lover your brain also produces a high amount of dopamine, which is connected to reward seeking behavior. This explains the infatuation and obsessive experience that happens in new love with the main goal being reciprocated feelings from the other person. When this goes well the addictive high of love kicks in until the Dopamine wears off, and the relationship falls into a phase of love that many couples refer to as boring. When the romance falters or doesn’t work out, the Dopamine spikes even higher driving the spurned lover to protest and go into a state of high anxiety. Recognizing that much of what you are experiencing is driven by love bio-chemicals may help you logically step aside to manage the behaviors and feelings of love.

3) LOVE/HATE: Ever feel like you want to kill your partner? Turns out that love and hate are also closely linked in the brain. It is neurologically and physiologically possible to love someone and hate them at the same time. This experience can drive you crazy, and leave you feeling really confused. Know that it’s normal to fluctuate in your feelings when you’re in love, it doesn’t always have to be bliss for it to be good. Loving and hating at the same time is a normal human experience, and everyone feels these divergent feelings for people we love.

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Brain Project: The B-Spot like a Computer

The human brain is the most complex machine in existence, so it seems almost natural that technology would want to replicate its powers. The computer in development would be 1,000 times faster than even the fastest ones we use today.

Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project combines the brainpower of 135 science institutions and government entities to create the computer brain. The project will cost about $1.6 billion.

The overarching goal of the project, as outlined on the human brain project website, is “to piece together our rapidly growing knowledge of the human brain.” Simulating the human brain provides insights into the brain’s inner workings and where our thoughts and emotions originate.

The project is still in its initial planning stages. The brain is about as complex as the universe; its three pounds of mass contains a comparable number of neurons as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. How’s that for brain power?

Click the b-spot brain below to learn more.

brain-project-b-spot

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The Power of the Female Brain

The Power of the Female Brain

What do you know know about the Power of the Female Brain?  Did you know there are six ways the female brain is more capable than men?

For the first time,  brain expert, doctor, and bestselling author offers insight on the unique characteristics and needs of the female brain and a practical, prescriptive program targeted specifically for women to help them thrive.

From one of the world’s leading experts on how the brain works, a step-by-step, practical program for women to achieve greater health, energy, and lasting happiness by harnessing the power of the female brain – see also http://lovebiochemicals.com/love-biochemicals/

Dr. Amen has been called a “modern-day Freud” by ABC News with Diane Sawyer, and “America’s Favorite Psychiatrist” by the Washington Post. His new book is based on the largest gender brain study ever completed, and reveals tantalizing details about the female brain, among them—six ways the female brain is more capable than men.

In this breakthrough book (available here) based on research from his clinical practice, Dr. Daniel G. Amen addresses the issues women ask about the most including fertility, pregnancy, menopause, weight, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and relationships. 

The way to a woman’s heart is through her b-spot.  And the way to her g-spot is through her b-spot, too!  

In this book he shows you, step-by-step, exactly how to unleash the power of the female brain:

  • How to optimize your brain for love, sex, and intimacy in relationships. All of these are better when your brain is better!
  • How to fall in love with your brain, so that caring for it becomes a joy and not a burden. It becomes something you HAVE to do and a habit you’ll love having. It is the expression of a logical mind and self-love.
  • How to harness the unique strengths of the female brain, such as empathy,
  • intuition, collaboration, self-control, and a little worry, and how to overcome some of its special vulnerabilities, such as depression, perfectionism, and an inability to let go of negative thoughts.
  • How to feed your female brain so that you can flatten your tummy, permanently lose unwanted pounds, get healthy and fit, and stop feeding irritable bowel syndrome, depression, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.
  • How to naturally balance the hormones that govern energy, mood, relaxation, power, trust, and lust, and how to make your hormones work for you, instead of against you. You will also learn how to successfully navigate such hormone-related issues as thyroid imbalance, PMS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, peri-menopause, and menopause.
  • About the different brain types, find out which brain type is yours, and how to optimize your brain so you have a top b-spot.
  • How to soothe your brain with natural treatments in order to successfully tackle anxiety, worry, depression, perfectionism, and eating disorders. You’ll also learn how to turn your brain off, so you’re not always bombarded by thoughts of what you have to do next, what might go wrong, or what you fear might be wrong with you.
  • How to get your cravings under control, and boost your decision-making skills in improve your health and weight.
  • About attention-deficit disorder in women, and how, if you have it, it can be sabotaging your success.
  • About the connection between brain health and beauty, and how taking care of your brain can help you look more vital and younger.
  • How to get your brain ready for babies, raise them in a brain-healthy way, and unleash the power of your daughters’ brains.
  • How to create a brain-healthy community, and how doing so can change your world.

To facilitate your success, he also gives you 12 simple one hour exercises to put these brain-healthy principles into your life. Viva la B-Spot!

sherrie-rose-thebspot-neuro-enthusiast

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The B Spot: What is Intuition?

What is Intuition?

brain-heart-intuition-the-b-spot

“The only real valuable thing is intuition.” 
– Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955, Nobel Prize winning revolutionary physicist.

Intuition is the process of perceiving or knowing something without conscious reasoning: knowledge of events such as an act of nature that has yet to happen; or knowledge of a distant material object such as an unseen obstruction blocking the highway ahead. Researchers with the Institute of HeartMath and many others who have conducted numerous controlled and scientifically validated studies over more than half a century have expanded the definition of intuition to include not only conscious perception by the mind alone, but also by the body’s entire psychophysiological system.

“Heart intuition or intelligence brings the freedom and power to accomplish what the mind, even with all the disciplines or affirmations in the world, cannot do if it’s out of sync with the heart.”    – The HeartMath Solution, 1999, Childre and Martin

This unconscious perception often is evidenced by subtle changes in emotions and measurable physiological changes that can be detected throughout the body, according to the study Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1 and Part 2, McCraty, Atkinson and Bradley, 2004.

At the center of this ability is the human heart, which encompasses a degree of intelligence whose sophistication and vastness we are continuing to understand and explore. We now know this intelligence may be cultivated to our advantage in many ways.

HeartMath theorizes that intuitive abilities we’re unable to attribute to subconsciously stored memories and experiences or to the conscious brain’s analytic processes, make sense in another context: The body is connected by sensory perception to a field of energy that enfolds the information we attribute to intuition.

To help us understand this concept, consider an established scientific fact in the area of quantum physics that could not be explained by classical physics in the early 20th century: We know there is virtually instantaneous communication of information in the subatomic world between particles separated by vast regions of space and these particles act is if they have knowledge of events before they happen. This “nonlocal communication” seemingly exists outside the confines of space and time as we currently understand them.

Source:  http://www.heartmath.org/

“Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way.”

– Florence Scovel Shinn, New Thought prognosticator.

“I feel there are two people inside me – me and my intuition. If I go against her, she’ll screw me every time, and if I follow her, we get along quite nicely.”

– Kim Basinger, actress.

Human Intuition: The Brain Behind the Scenes 
Intuition: Its Powers and Perils  David G. Myers. © 2002 Yale University Press,

In the following excerpts from the book’s introduction and ?rst chapter, David G. Myers calls upon brain science to show us the scope and power of the brain “off-stage, out of sight.”

My geographical intuition tells me that Reno is east of Los Angeles, that Rome is south of New York, that Atlanta is east of Detroit. But I am wrong, wrong, and wrong. “The first principle,” said Einstein’s fellow physicist Richard Feynman, “is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”

For Webster and for this book, intuition is our capacity for direct knowledge, for immediate insight without observation or reason. “Intuitive thinking is perception-like, rapid, effortless,” notes Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman. By contrast, “deliberate thinking is reasoning-like, critical, and analytic.”  Intuition authors and trainers—“intuitives,” as they call themselves—seem largely oblivious to psychology’s new explorations of how we process information. Are their intuitions about intuition valid? Is our consciousness sometimes invaded by unbidden truth, which is there for us to behold if only we would listen to the still small voice within? Or are their intuition writings to cognitive science what professional wrestling is to athletics? Do they offer little more than a make-believe world, an illusory reality in substitution for the real thing?

Recent cognitive science reveals a fascinating unconscious mind— another mind backstage— that Freud never told us about.

The emerging understanding, as we will see, is double-sided. “There are trivial truths and great truths,” declared the physicist Niels Bohr. “The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” And so it is with human intuition, which has surprising powers and perils. On the one hand, recent cognitive science reveals a fascinating unconscious mind—another mind backstage— that Freud never told us about. More than we realized over a decade ago, thinking occurs not on stage, but off stage, out of sight…

Consider:

Blindsight. Having lost a portion of their brain’s visual cortex to surgery or stroke, people may be consciously blind in part of their field of vision. Shown a series of sticks in the blind field, they report seeing nothing. Yet when asked to guess whether the sticks are vertical or horizontal, they may unerringly offer the correct response. When told, “you got them all right,” they are astounded. These people clearly know more than they know they know. They may reach to shake an outstretched hand that they cannot see. There are, it seems, little minds—“parallel processing” systems—operating unseen.

Indeed, “sight unseen” is how University of Durham psychologist David Milner describes the brain’s two visual systems—“one that gives us our conscious perceptions, and one that guides our actions.” The second he calls the “zombie within.” Milner describes a brain-damaged woman who can see the hairs on the back of a hand and yet be unable to recognize a hand. Asked to use her thumb and forefinger to estimate an object’s size, she can’t do it— though when she reaches for the object her thumb and forefinger are appropriately placed. She knows more than she is aware of.

Prosopagnosia. Patients with this disorder have suffered damage to a part of the brain involved in face recognition. After losing the pertinent temporal lobe area, patients may have complete sensation but incomplete perception. They can sense visual information—indeed, may accurately report the features of a face yet be unable to recognize it. When shown an unfamiliar face, they do not react. When shown a loved one’s face, however, their body displays recognition. Their autonomic nervous system responds with measurable perspiration and speeded pulse. What the conscious mind cannot understand, the heart knows.

Everyday perception. Consider your own taken-for-granted capacity to intuitively recognize a face. As you look at a photo, your brain acts like a multitasking computer. It breaks the visual information into sub-dimensions, such as color, depth, movement, and form, and works on each aspect simultaneously, using different neural networks, before reassembling the components. (Damage the pertinent neural network and you may become unable to perceive a sub-dimension, such as movement.) Finally, your brain compares the reconstructed image with previously stored images. Voila! Instantly and effortlessly you recognize, among billions of humans, someone you’ve not seen in five years.

Neural impulses travel a million times slower than a computer’s internal messages, yet our brain humbles any computer with its instant recognition. “You can buy a chess machine that beats a master,” notes vision researcher Donald Hoffman, “but can’t yet buy a vision machine that beats a toddler’s vision.” If intuition is immediate knowing, without reasoned analysis, then perceiving is intuition par excellence.

So, is human intelligence more than logic? Is thinking more than ordering words? Is comprehension more than conscious cognition? Absolutely.

So, is human intelligence more than logic? Is thinking more than ordering words? Is comprehension more than conscious cognition? Absolutely. Cognitive psychologist George Miller embodied this truth by telling of two passengers leaning against the ship’s rail, staring at the sea. “‘There sure is a lot of water in the ocean,’ said one. ‘Yes,’ answered his friend, ‘and we’ve only seen the top of it.’”

Imagine (or ask someone to imagine) folding a sheet of paper on itself 100 times. Roughly how thick would it be?

Given our year with 365 days, a group needs 366 people to ensure that at least two of its members share the same birthday. How big must the group be to have a 50 percent chance of finding a birthday match?

Imagine yourself participating in this study, patterned after a 1930s experiment by psychologist Lloyd Humphreys. On each of 100 trials, you are asked to guess whether a light that goes on 70 percent of the time will go on. You get a dollar each time your guess (“yes” or “no”) is correct. Visualize the first ten trials.

Once again, our intuitions usually err. Given a 0.1-millimeter-thick sheet, the thickness after 100 folds, each doubling the preceding thickness, would be 800 trillion times the distance between the earth and the sun. Only twenty-three people are needed to give better than even odds of any two people having the same birthday. (Look out at a soccer match with a referee and the odds are 50-50 that two people on the field have the same birthday.) And though people typically guess “yes” about 70 percent of the time, their intuitions leave them with emptier pockets— about $58—than if they simply guess “yes” all the time, producing about $70.*

Ah, but shall we say with some postmodernists that intuitive truth is self-validating, and that we must not judge it by the canons of westernized logic? No. With these mind teaser problems, rational analysis defines truth. On the perceptual problems, the ruler rules: it measures an objective reality. On the little gambling game, the rare person who follows logic leaves with enough money to take friends out to a lobster dinner, while the intuitive and friends at the next table can afford only spaghetti…

My own field of psychological science has sometimes confirmed popular intuitions. An enduring, committed marriage is conducive to adults’ happiness and children’s thriving. The media modeling of violent and sexually impulsive behaviors do affect viewers’ attitudes and actions (though the same studies contradict people’s intuitions that it’s only others who are influenced). Perceived freedom and feelings of control are conducive to happiness and achievement. But at the same time, our unaided intuitions may tell us that familiarity breeds contempt, that dreams predict the future, and that high self-esteem is invariably beneficial—ideas that aren’t supported by the available evidence. Even the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem acknowledged in its report that the “intuitively correct” presumption—that high self-esteem leads to desirable behaviors—has been but weakly confirmed. (It is true that those with high self-esteem are less at risk for depression, but high self-esteem also has a dark side. Much violence results from the puncturing of inflated egos.)

Recent research also relegates other intuitively correct axioms of pop psychology to the dustbin.

  • Although genetic predispositions and peer and media influences shape children, direct parental nurture has surprisingly little effect on their developing personalities and tastes. (Adopted siblings do not develop more similar personalities as a result of being reared in the same home. And identical twins are not more alike in personality if reared together than if reared in separate homes.)
  • People typically do not repress acutely painful or upsetting experiences. Holocaust survivors, children who have witnessed a parent’s murder, and rape victims remember the horror all too well.

Experiments have similarly deflated people’s intuitions that quartz crystals uplift their spirits, that subliminal self-help tapes have reprogrammed their unconscious mind, and that “therapeutic touch” (moving hands near the body) has curative effects. (Those given fake crystals or supposed subliminal tapes, for example, exhibit the same results.)

“Science,” said Richard Feynman, “is a long history of learning how not to fool ourselves.”…

You effortlessly delegate most of your thinking and decision making to the masses of cognitive workers busily at work in your mind’s basement. Only the really important mental tasks reach the executive desk, where your conscious mind works.

THINKING WITHOUT AWARENESS

Has anyone ever told you that you are amazing? Well, you are. You process vast amounts of information off screen. You effortlessly delegate most of your thinking and decision making to the masses of cognitive workers busily at work in your mind’s basement. Only the really important mental tasks reach the executive desk, where your conscious mind works. When you are asked, “What are you thinking?” your mental CEO answers, speaking of worries, hopes, plans, and questions, mindless of all the lower-floor laborers.

This big idea of contemporary psychological science—that most of our everyday thinking, feeling, and acting operate outside conscious awareness—“is a difficult one for people to accept,” report John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand, psychologists at New York University. Our consciousness is biased to think that its own intentions and deliberate choice rule our lives (understandably, since tip-of-the-iceberg consciousness is mostly aware of its visible self). But consciousness overrates its own control. Take something as simple as speaking. Strings of words effortlessly spill out of your mouth with near-perfect syntax (amazing, given how many ways there are to mess up). It’s as if there were servants downstairs, busily hammering together sentences that get piped up and fluidly shoved out of your mouth. You hardly have a clue how you do it. But there it is….

CHILDREN’S INTUITIVE LEARNING

Some things we know we know, but we don’t know how we know them. Consider your absorption of language. If you are an average secondary school graduate you know some 80,000 words (likely an underestimate given that you’re reading this book). That averages (from age 1 to 18) nearly 5,000 words learned each year, or 13 each day! How you did it— how the 5,000 words a year you learned could outnumber by so much the roughly 200 words a year that your schoolteachers consciously taught you—is one of the great human wonders. Before you could add 2 + 2 you were creating your own original and grammatically appropriate sentences. Your parents probably would have had trouble stating the rules of syntax. Yet while barely more than a toddler you intuitively comprehended and spoke with a facility that would shame a college student struggling to learn a foreign language or a scientist struggling to simulate natural language on a computer.

Even infants—well before they have begun thinking in words—possess striking intuitive capacities. We are born preferring sights and sounds that facilitate social responsiveness. As newborns, we turned our heads in the direction of human voices. We gazed longer at a drawing of a face-like image than at a bull’s-eye pattern, and longer at a bull’s-eye pattern (which has contrasts much like those of the human eye) than at a solid disk. We preferred to look at objects eight to twelve inches away, which, wonder of wonders, just happens to be the approximate distance between a nursing infant’s eyes and its mother’s.

Our perceptual abilities develop continuously during the first months of life. Within days of birth, our brain’s neural networks were stamped with the smell of our mother’s body. Thus, a week-old nursing baby, placed between a gauze pad from its mother’s bra and one from another nursing mother, will usually turn toward its own mother’s pad. A three-week-old infant, if given a pacifier that turns on recordings of either its mother’s voice or a female stranger’s, will suck more vigorously when it hears its now-familiar mother.

Babies also have an intuitive grasp of simple laws of physics. Like adults staring in disbelief at a magic trick, infants look longer at a scene of a ball stopping in midair, a car seeming to pass through a solid object, or an object that seems to disappear. Babies even have a head for numbers. Researcher Karen Wynn showed five-month-old infants one or two objects. Then she hid the objects behind a screen, sometimes removing or adding one through a trap door. When she lifted the screen, the infants often did a double take, staring longer when shown a wrong number of objects. Like animals’ native fear of heights, this is intuitive knowledge—unmediated by words or rational analysis.

LEFT BRAIN/RIGHT BRAIN

For more than a century, we’ve known that the brain’s two sides serve differing functions. Accidents, strokes, and tumors in the left hemisphere generally impair activities of the rational, verbal, nonintuitive mind, such as reading, writing, speaking, arithmetic reasoning, and understanding. Similar lesions in the right hemisphere seldom have such dramatic effects.

By 1960 the left hemisphere (or “left brain”) was well accepted as the dominant or major hemisphere, and its quieter companion as the subordinate or minor hemisphere. The left hemisphere is rather like the moon’s facing side—the one easiest to observe and study. It talks to us. The other side is there, of course, but hidden.

When surgeons first separated the brain’s hemispheres as a treatment for severe epilepsy, they effectively created a small population of what have been called the most fascinating people on earth—split-brain people who are literally of two minds. The peculiar nature of our visual wiring enables researchers to send information to either the patients’ left or right brain by having the patient stare at a spot and then flashing a stimulus to the right or left of it. (They could do this with you, too, but in your intact brain the telltale hemisphere that received the information would instantly call the news to its partner across the valley. Split-brain surgery severs the phone cables—the corpus collosum—across the valley.) Finally, the researchers quiz each hemisphere separately.

In an early experiment, psychologist Michael Gazzaniga asked split-brain patients to stare at a dot as he flashed HE•ART. Thus HE appeared in their left visual field (which transmits to the right brain) and ART in the right field (which transmits to the left brain). When he then asked them what they had seen, the patients said they saw ART and so were startled when their left hands (controlled by the right brain)pointed to HE. Given an opportunity to express itself, each hemisphere reported only what it had seen. The left hand intuitively knew what it could not verbally report.

Similarly, when a picture of a spoon was flashed to their right brain, the patients could not say what they saw. But when asked to identify what they had seen by feeling an assortment of hidden objects with their left hands, they readily selected the spoon. If the experimenter said, “Right!” the patient might reply, “What? Right? How could I possibly pick out the right object when I don’t know what I saw?” It is, of course, the left brain doing the talking here, bewildered by what it’s nonverbal right brain quietly knows.

These experiments demonstrate that the right brain understands simple requests and easily perceives objects. In fact, the right brain is superior to the left at copying drawings, recognizing faces, perceiving differences, sensing and expressing emotion.

Although the left brain is adept at literal interpretations of language, the right brain excels in making subtle inferences. If “primed” with the flashed word foot, the left brain will be especially quick to then recognize the closely associated word heel. But if primed with foot, cry, and glass, the right brain will more quickly recognize another word that is distantly related to all three: cut. And if given a verbal problem—what word goes with high, district, and house?—the right brain more quickly than the left recognizes that the solution is school. As one patient explained after suffering right-brain stroke damage, “I understand words, but I’m missing the subtleties.” Thus, the right brain helps us modulate our speech to make meaning clear—as when we ask “What’s that in the road ahead?” instead of “What’s that in the road, a head?”

Some split-brain surgery patients have temporarily been bothered by the unruly independence of their left hand, which might unbutton a shirt while the right hand buttoned it.

Some split-brain surgery patients have temporarily been bothered by the unruly independence of their left hand, which might unbutton a shirt while the right hand buttoned it, or put groceries back on the shelf after the right hand put them in the cart. It was as if each hemisphere was thinking “I’ve half a mind to wear my green (blue) shirt today.” Indeed, said Nobel laureate psychologist Roger Sperry, split-brain surgery leaves people “with two separate minds.” (Reading these reports, I imagine a split-brain person enjoying a solitary game of “rock, paper, and scissors”—left hand versus right.)

When the two minds are at odds, the left brain acts as the brain’s press agent, doing mental gymnastics to rationalize unexplained action. If the right brain commands an action, the left brain will intuitively justify it. If the right brain is commanded to laugh, the patient will respond with laughter. The left brain, when asked why the laughter, will rationalize, perhaps pointing to the “funny research.” If a patient follows an order sent to the right brain (“Walk”), the left brain will offer a ready explanation (“I’m going into the house to get a Coke”). Michael Gazzaniga concludes that the left brain is an “interpreter” that instantly constructs theories to justify our behavior. We humans have a quick facility for constructing meaning.

Beneath the surface there is much intelligence, and above the surface there is much self-delusion.

Most of the body’s paired organs—kidneys, lungs, breasts—perform identical functions, providing a backup should one side fail. Not so the brain’s two halves. They are a biological odd couple, serving differing functions, each seemingly with a mind of its own. From simply looking at the similarly shaped hemispheres, who would suppose that they contribute uniquely to the harmony of the whole?

And not even Freud (who didn’t anticipate the cool intelligence of the hidden mind) could have supposed that our brains are humming with so much resourceful activity outside our conscious awareness, and that our interpretive left brain, grasping at straws, can so speedily intuit false explanations for our behavior. Beneath the surface there is much intelligence, and above the surface there is much self-delusion.

IMPLICIT MEMORY

My ninety-three-year-old father recently suffered a small stroke that has had but one peculiar effect. His genial personality is intact. He is as mobile as before. He knows us, and while poring over family photo albums can reminisce in detail. But he has lost most of his facility for laying down new memories of conversations and everyday episodes. He cannot tell me what day of the week it is. He enjoys going out for a drive and commenting on what we’re seeing, but the next day he cannot recall our going anywhere. Told repeatedly of his brother-in-law’s death, he would still express surprise on learning the news.

Oliver Sacks tells of another such memory-loss patient, Jimmie, who thirty years after suffering brain damage in 1945 would still, when asked who is president, answer “Harry Truman.” Sacks showed Jimmie a photo from National Geographic. “What is this?” he asked.

“It’s the moon,” Jimmie replied.

“No, it’s not,” Sacks answered. “It’s a picture of the earth taken from the moon.”

“Doc, you’re kidding? Someone would’ve had to get a camera up there!”

“Naturally.”

“Hell! You’re joking—how the hell would you do that?” Jimmie’s wonder was that of a bright young man from fifty-five years ago reacting with amazement to his travel back to the future.

Careful testing of these unique people reveals something even stranger: Although incapable of recalling new facts or anything they have recently done, Jimmie and other similarly amnesiac people can learn. Once shown hard-to find figures in pictures (Where’s Waldo?), they can quickly spot them again later. They can learn to read mirror-image writing or do a jigsaw puzzle (after denying that they’ve ever seen the task before). They have even been taught complicated job skills. However, they do all these things with no awareness of having learned them.

These curious findings challenge the idea that memory is a single, unified system. Instead, we seem to have two systems operating in tandem. Whatever has destroyed conscious recall has left unconscious learning intact. These patients can learn how to do something—called implicit memory (or procedural memory). But they cannot know and declare that they know— called explicit memory (or declarative memory). Having read a story once, they will read it faster a second time, showing implicit memory. But there will be no explicit memory, for they cannot recall having seen the story before. After playing golf on a new course, they will forget the experience completely, yet the more they play the course, the more their game will improve. If repeatedly shown the word perfume, they will not recall having seen it. But if asked what word comes to mind in response to the letters per, they surprise themselves by saying perfume, readily displaying their learning. They retain their past but do not explicitly recall it. Intuitively, they know more than they are aware.

This dual explicit-implicit memory system helps explain “infantile amnesia”: The reactions and skills we learned during infancy—how to walk, whether to trust or fear others—reach far into our future. Yet as adults we recall nothing (explicitly) of our first three years. Although benefitting from a legacy of collected intuitions—our perceptions of distance, our sense of good and bad, our preference for familiar foods, people, and places—our conscious minds draw a blank for those early years. Infantile amnesia occurs because we index so much of our explicit memory by words that nonspeaking toddlers have yet to learn, and also because a crucial brain region for laying down explicit memories (the hippocampus) is one of the last brain structures to mature. We are amnesic for much of our past. Yet some of what we don’t explicitly recall we implicitly, intuitively remember.

If time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once, then consciousness is nature’s way of keeping us from thinking everything at once.

KNOWING WITHOUT AWARENESS

…If the old psychoanalytic methods don’t reliably reveal the unconscious mind’s working, the new cognitive science does. Consider, first, our capacity for divided attention. You surely are aware that your conscious attention is selective. It’s in but one place at a time. If you doubt this, try (assuming you are right-handed) moving your right foot in a smooth counterclockwise circle while writing the number 3 repeatedly with your right hand. You can easily do either—but not at the same time. Or if you are musically trained, try tapping a steady three beats to the measure with your left hand while tapping four times with your right hand. Unless they become automatic with practice, such tasks require conscious attention, which can be in only one place at a time. Consciousness focuses us. If time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once, then consciousness is nature’s way of keeping us from thinking everything at once.

This classic perceptual illusion, which shifts from the silhouette of  a vase to the silhouette of two faces as our attention flickers back and forth, illustrates that conscious attention is highly focused and selective. Unconscious brain activities, by contrast, operate in parallel, supporting immensely complex activities such as speaking grammatically or returning a tennis serve, which require simultaneous, coordinated, largely automatic processes.

Perceptions, too, come to us moment by moment, one perception being lifted from our mind’s magic slate as the next appears. Because conscious attention is selective, we see the familiar reversible figure (above) only one way at a time, before the perception flits away and the alternate replaces it…

But now things get really interesting, for it turns out that we can, nevertheless, process and be influenced by unattended information. Let someone from the hubbub of unattended party noise speak your name and instantly your attention shifts. You weren’t listening to that speaker, but the downstairs laborers watching the radar screens noticed the blip— a signal amid the noise—and instantly alerted your mental CEO. In a dichotic listening experiment they will do the same when detecting an emotion-arousing word, such as one previously associated with electric shock. Likewise, in a “dichoptic viewing” experiment—with differing images seen by the two eyes—only one will be visible to you, though your brain’s radar technicians will do a rudimentary scan of the other for any important information. Ergo, you are, right now, processing much information outside your awareness…

Priming experiments reveal how one thought, even outside of awareness, influences another thought or action. Priming is the awakening of associations. In yet another experiment, people asked to complete a sentence containing words like old, wise, and retired afterward walked more slowly to the elevator than those not primed—and without any awareness of walking slowly or of the high frequency of words related to aging.

The experiments have their counterparts in everyday life:

  • Watching a scary movie alone at home can prime our thinking, activating emotions that cause us to interpret furnace noises as those of an intruder.
  • For many psychology students, reading about psychological disorders primes how they interpret their own anxieties and gloomy mood. Reading about disease similarly primes medical students to worry about their congestion, fever, or headache.
  • Ask people to pronounce the word spelled by S-H-O-P and then ask them (or ask yourself) what they do when they come to a green light. Many will answer “stop,” and then will sheepishly grin when realizing their priming-induced error.

The take home lesson: Although perception requires attention, unattended stimuli can subtly affect us. Moreover, implanted ideas and images can automatically—unintentionally, effortlessly, and without awareness—prime how we interpret and recall events.

In a host of new studies, the effects of priming surface even when the stimuli are presented subliminally—too briefly to be perceived. What’s out of sight need not be out of mind. An electric shock, too slight to be felt, increases the perceived intensity of a later shock. An imperceptibly flashed word, bread, primes people to detect a related word, such as butter, more quickly than bottle or bubble. A subliminal color name facilitates speedier identification when the color itself appears on a computer screen, while an unseen wrong name delays color identification. In each case, an invisible image or word primes a response to a later question.

TWO WAYS OF KNOWING

…We have sampled but a few of the hundreds of 1990s experiments exploring the relative contribution of our two ways of knowing— automatic (unconscious) and controlled (conscious).

Thanks to a repository of experience, a tennis player automatically—and intelligently—knows just where to run to intercept the ball, with just the right racquet angle. As Venus Williams smacks the ball, conscious attention and unconscious perception and coordination integrate seamlessly. The result is her near-perfect intuitive physics. 

When meeting and greeting people, when pondering and predicting their behavior, when screening and stereotyping strangers, to what extent are we guided by knee-jerk intuitions rather than by deliberate reasoning? To a great extent, surmises John Bargh, a leading researcher, “automatic, nonconscious processes pervade all aspects of mental and social life.”

As Galileo “removed the earth from its privileged position at the center of the universe,” so Bargh sees automatic thinking research “removing consciousness from its privileged place.” The purpose of consciousness, he theorizes, is “to connect a parallel mind to a serial world” (his italics). And the unconscious is less simpleminded and irrational than some researchers contend, argues Bargh. Unconscious, intuitive inclinations detect and reflect the regularities of our personal history.

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