© 2011 By Gary Vey of ViewZone.com

Your Brain is NOT a Computer!

 

It is common to think of the human brain as a kind of super-computer. Certainly there are many analogies. Computers have the ability to store and remember information, to compare and even make decisions based on programmed instructions. But the mechanics of all computers is fundamentally a switch, or "gate", that either allows an electrical current to flow (on) or not (off). While the neurons and synapses perform a similar function in the brain, recent discoveries have revealed how unlike a computer this remarkable organ really is.

 

New discoveries shed light on the amazing abilities of our brains

 

Because most of our communication uses language, we have become used to expressing our thoughts in a linear progression; each idea is an expansion of the previous one. This logical sequence of data is also the foundation of computer programming languages. We envision computers as an extension of our own minds, and so we naturally try to understand our brain in the same mechanistic fashion.

 


The apparent magic of a computer processor is its ability to rapidly open and close a huge number of switches. In the early days these switches were actual relays, giving rise to the clicking sound that characterized brainiacs like Robbie the Robot [above] in the classic film, Forbidden Planet.

In 1946, two Americans, Presper Eckert, and John Mauchly built the ENIAC electronic computer which used silent vacuum tubes instead of the relays. A year later engineers, working at AT&T's Bell Labs, invented the diode transistor which would replace the vacuum tube forever. Miniturization and the development of micro-processors has made it possible for you to be reading this article on a powerful computer. Yet, as remarkable as this technology has become, computers are still just collections of more and faster on-off switches.

At school, I was taught that the brain also had switches — about 500 trillion of them — and they were called synapses. These are the gaps between neurons, or brain cells. Each synapse could open and close like a computer switch, allowing an electrical impulse to either continue or be inhibited. It was the same on-off model. This idea persists even now. But it is about to change.

The synapse is no ordinary switch!

Synapses are tiny — less than a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter — so researchers have not been able to see exactly what goes on in these neural gaps. A team at Stanford University's School of Medicine has spent years engineering a new imaging model called array tomography. It's kind of like a scan and an electron microscope combined. The "slices" of many scans are manipulated by a computer to form 3D images that can be rotated, penetrated, navigated and analysed.

The Stanford team took tissue samples from a mouse whose brain had been bioengineered to make larger neurons in the cerebral cortex express a fluorescent protein (found in jellyfish), making them glow yellow-green. Because of this glow, the researchers were able to see synapses against the background of neurons. When they used their array tomography to view the synapses, their revealed complexity was almost beyond belief.

To say that a synapse is much more than a switch is a gross understatement! The revelation of synaptic space has had the same effect upon neuroscientists as the Hubble Telescope has had on astronomers.

According to Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford:

"One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor– with both memory-storage and information-processing elements — than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth."Cnet.com

 


Mark Miller, a doctoral student at Brandeis University, stained thin slices of a mouses brain to show how neurons are connected to one another [above left]. The image shows three neuron cells (two yellow and one red) and their connections. The synapses are too small to be visible. The image on the right was developed by a group of astrophysicists, using a supercomputer, to simulate the origins and evolution of the universe. The bright clusters are full of galaxies, surrounded by thousands of stars, more galaxies and dark matter.

These similar phenomena are examples of fractal networks, where information and are distributed through a distinct pattern, interconnected on a microcosmic and macrocosmic scale. And the similarities are even more significant.

As we shall see, astrophysicists are just now moving away from the gravitational model in favor of theories that consider electric fields and plasma as the new paradigm (the so-called "electric universe") to explain the evolution and maintenance of our universe. Neuroscientists are also beginning to experience their own paradigm shifts from "brain switches" to electric field theories!

But wait… there's more!

While the immensely complex synapse was still causing slack jaws, neuroscientists uncovered strong evidence that neurons also communicate with each other through weak electric fields. The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, by Dr Costas Anastassiou (Caltech), explains how every time an electrical impulse races down the branch of a neuron, a tiny electric field surrounds that cell. This phenomenon was expected, since any conductor carrying an electrical current generates a field. But until now, the significance of this neuron field was thought to be negligible. The focus in neurology has always been on the end of the neuron — the synapse — where the mechanistic "switch" model explained neural communication so well.

 

"I think this is a very exciting new discovery. We knew that weak electric fields can impact brain activity, but what no one had really tested before was whether electric fields produced by the brain itself can influence its own activity." –Ole Paulsen, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge

The Caltech study showed that when just a few neurons were generating electrical fields, the effects were hardly noticeable. But when a group of neurons fire together, their collective fields were very significant, functioning to coordinate, accelerate and potentiate the neural activity.

"We observed that fields as weak as one millivolt per millimetre robustly alter the firing of individual neurons, and increase the so-called 'spike-field coherence' — the synchronicity with which neurons fire with relationship to the field.

Increased spike-field coherency may substantially enhance the amount of information transmitted between neurons as well as increase its reliability.

I firmly believe that understanding the origin and functionality of endogenous brain fields will lead to several revelations regarding information processing at the circuit level, which, in my opinion, is the level at which perceptions and concepts arise." — Dr. Anastassiou

Fields of a different kind — Pastures and Morphogenetic

One of the amazing things about the brain is its intelligence — the ability to learn. It's looking more like learning is influenced as much by electric fields as the alterations of synaptic connections.

 


The image above shows the tracks of cattle in a field with a water hole. It's likely that the first cattle stumbled upon the water by chance, leaving a noticeable trail in the dirt. As more animals sought water, they tended to follow established paths — even when these paths were not the most direct route. Over time, the most travelled paths parallel each other, defining the most efficient routes to the water hole.

The brain establishes neural paths when it learns. Repetition helps us learn a task because, like the cattle seeking water, it causes multiple paths to be established between the neurons and synapses. The multiple paths collectively increase the electrical fields which, in turn, potentiate and enhance the more efficient flow of information.

This "field effect" may prove to be more significant in explaining learning, habits and addiction than the current model of neural reconfiguration. It explains how thoughts are not singular facts but can be layered, associated and integrated with other paths containing ideas, memories and feelings. Groups of paths are stimulated by the neural field, resulting in a variety of novel thoughts. While a computer made of switches is incapable of creativity, our brain most certainly is.

Like in astronomy, understanding the effects of electrical fields is an immature science. Perhaps when we understand more of how this works on the macro-scale we will be able to unlock more secrets inside our brain.

Morphogenetic Fields are another mystery that begs for an explanation.

Rupert Sheldrake [right] is a biochemist who has been a pioneer in something he termed the morphogenetic field. Sheldrake postulated that there was some type of memory or data that could exist outside of an organism and would serve the same role of enhancing intracellular communication that neuroscientists are finding in the brain. But Sheldrake envisioned the morphogenetic field decades earlier and applied it to a myriad of living tissue.

He based his premise on the developing embryo which starts out as a single cell. As it evolves, cells differentiate to form various types of tissue and organs. Embryology explains this cell differentiation in terms of DNA, but it seems an incredibly complex and remarkably stable achievement for a molecule. How are all of the cells made to work together after they are formed? How do they communicate with each other?

For Sheldrake the answer was an invisible but very real biological field that coordinates living cells, promoting their cooperation and unifying them to form a single organism. He described cells of a similar type as having a specific "resonance" which helps them to maintain — rather than deviate from — their designed function.

Later, Sheldrake extended his morphogenetic field theory to describe how individual organisms resonate with each other, sharing experiences and learned behavior that enhances their survival.

Here is a good video where Sheldrake explains his Morphogenetic Field theory in detail:

 


The 100th Monkey!

The Japanese monkey, Macaca Fuscata [right], lives on the island of Koshima and has been the target of biologists social scientists for decades. To keep them viable, they are routinely given sweet potatoes which are dropped on the beach. The monkeys enjoyed the potatoes but obviously disliked the sand that clung to them.

One day, perhaps by accident, an 18 month monkey brought a potato to a nearby stream where the water washed the sand off. Her siblings observed this and started to routinely wash their potatoes also. Scientists watched as the immediate family group, then friends of the family, began to practice this washing technique. It was a slow evolution and a majority of the other monkeys still coped with the unpleasant sand on their potatoes.

Within six years, all of the young monkeys had learned to wash the sand off their sweet potatoes. Some adults who imitated their children also learned this technique. But most adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. After a certain number of Koshima monkeys had started washing their sweet potatoes (the scientists estimate about 100) — suddenly everyone in the tribe was washing their sweet potatoes before eating them. Scientists could not explain the almost instantaneous change in behavior. Even more remarkable, colonies of the same species on different islands — who had never been exposed to the washing technique — suddenly began washing their potatoes! Sheldrake interpreted this behavior to the morphogenetic field, explaining that when a certain critical number of a species adapts, that adaptation will be contained and proliferated by the field. It's a kind of collective unconscious.

Scientists were quick to jump all over Sheldrake because his theory was not mechanistic. It relied on something that defied measurement or physical explanation. But Sheldrake accepted a challenge to demonstrate his theory in a now famous BBC televised experiment.

The Experiment – What do YOU see?

 

"The experiment has three steps. You start by showing two of these puzzle pictures to a group of test subjects to establish a base line for how easily the hidden picture in each can be recognized.

Next, on TV so that you can reach large numbers of people, you teach the TV viewers how to see one of the hidden images, but do not show the other.

Finally, you get a new group of test subjects who did not see or hear about the TV show, and again test their ability to recognize the hidden images. The experimental question is, if lots of people learn to spot the hidden image in the puzzle picture, then does that make it easier for other people to spot it as well?" — Sheldrake

The people who saw the television show and were shown how to interpret the image in the pictures (i.e. looking at the negative, white space) are like the critical number (the "100 monkeys") who learned to wash their sweet potatoes. This knowledge then goes in to the morphogenetic field and becomes assessable to large numbers of people who did not watch the televised show and were not shown how to interpret the pictures. You compare the successful results of a groups, before and after the method of interpretation was taught, to see the effect.

Below are the two images shown to BBC viewers in the experiment. Try to guess what the picture is in each puzzle. After you click on the first picture, the hidden image will be revealed. Using that knowledge, can you "see" the image in the second picture? Click after you have made a guess. How did you do?

 


Figure 1 [above]

Figure 2 [above]

The first of these TV experiments was done in Britain in 1983 with 2 million viewers. Several thousand people were then tested in different parts of the world and the result was very positive and significant.

 

"This was then done on a larger scale on BBC television in 1984 with 8 million viewers. It was on one of the popular science programs called Tomorrow's World. Now in that one, the image to be shown was selected at random, live, at the moment of broadcast.

Post-broadcast tests were then carried out in , in Western Europe, and in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly South Africa … The percentage of people recognizing the hidden image in the picture that was shown on television increased very significantly in Western Europe, but not in , and in neither case was there a change in the control picture.

So there seems to have been an effect, but the effect was confined to Western Europe.

Now at first this looks as if it might be a distance effect but I don't expect distance effects … one possibility is that this has to do with people being in similar time zones, being more in phase. South Africa and Western Europe are only one hour different from Britain, whereas America is 5 to 8 hours different." — Sheldrake

 

 

The Plastic Brain

When we speak of the brain being "plastic" we are speaking about its ability to reorganize the neurons to perform different functions, as needed. If one part of the brain is injured, it is possible for other parts of the brain to be mobilized to compensate for the lost tissue. As we age, it is possible for individual neurons to regenerate and be revitalized. More evidence is suggesting that electrical fields play an important role in this "plasticity".

Neurons are continually born from endogenous stem cells and added to the brain throughout our lives. But as we get older, the development of new neurons declines dramatically. A study reported in the Annals of Neurology in 2002 described how aged mice with minimal new neuron development were revitalized and their neurons made to regenerate up to five times that of the control group merely by subjecting them to robust mental stimuli.

"Could this plastic response be relevant for explaining the beneficial effects of leading 'an active life' on brain function and pathology? Adult hippocampal neurogenesis in mice living in an enriched environment from the age of 10 to 20 months was fivefold higher than in controls.

This cellular plasticity occurred in the context of significant improvements of learning parameters, exploratory behavior, and locomotor activity. Enriched living mice also had a reduced lipofuscin load in the dentate gyrus, indicating decreased nonspecific age-dependent degeneration. Therefore, in mice signs of neuronal aging can be diminished by a sustained active and challenging life, even if this stimulation started only at medium age. Activity exerts not only an acute but also a sustained effect on brain plasticity." — [2]

It seems probable that by activating existing paths and stimulating electric field activity, neurogenesis — the revitalization of neurons — can be achieved. There seems to be some kind of mechanism that switches on the genes, making them behave as if they were younger. The good news is that this revitalization does not need to be intellectual. Brain stimulation from ordinary physical exercise appears to have the same effect.

In UCLA's Division of Neurosurgery, researchers found that rodents who were exercised regularly had greater neurogenesis and neuroplasticity compared to a control group that was not able to exercise. [3] So it seems that multi-path stimulation is key to maintaining a healthy brain. And this plasticity again appears related to the electric fields that are generated when a collection of neural pathways are stimulated simultaneously.

Can we mould our own brain?

Yes. The extent to which we can reconfigure our own brain is truly amazing. In the following video, 9 year old Jodi Miller can be seen attending school, playing with her friends and living a normal life. Her intellect and emotions remain intact despite the fact that surgeons removed one half of her brain.

Jodi suffered from brain siezures that could not be controlled by medication. To save her life, an entire hemisphere had to be disected. The empty half of her cranium has since been replaced by cerebral fluid. The remaining half of her brain reconfigured and reassigned the tasks of her missing hemisphere almost completely.

  


This is, of course, a dramatic example. But we all have reconfigured brains to some extent. Anything that you do repeatedly, or acquire a skill at doing, is indicative of a specialization and alteration in brain tissue. One of the more interesting examples is that of musicians.

 

We all knew musicians were "different"

 

In 1995 some studies were conducted on professional musicians to see how their brains might be different from the rest of us. Since the age of phrenology, scientists have thought that certain areas of brain anatomy held talents. Although there is not a specific section for musical ability, the brains of musicians are quite unique.

When neurologists stimulate the cortex, they notice that certain regions control the sensory input to specific areas of the body. The illustration at the right shows how the surface of the body is represented in corresponding regions of the cortex. Not all areas have the same sensitivity. The larger proportions show how many neurons are devoted to each part of the anatomy. This is sometimes called a "cortex map".

When the same regions were examined for musicians, it was discovered that these regions were markedly changed to suit their specific needs. Guitar players had enlarged regions corresponding to the hand involved in making chords, but not in the hand that strums the strings. Pianists had both hands enlarged on the cortex map and also certain regions of the anterior corpus collosum, which connects the two hemispheres and coordinates hand movements. Exceptional pianists also had marked spacing between each finger's cortex map.

Other differences were noticed in regions of the brain responsible for processing rhythm and pitch. But these differences were very specific. For example, a pianist could tell if a piano string was ever so slightly out of tune, yet would not notice the same fault in a violin, guitar or even a sine-wave tone generator. Each musician had used the brain's plasticity to their specific needs.

"These findings indicate that, after years of musical training, neuronal popula- tions in the auditory cortex might be shaped such that they automatically detect subtle changes in auditory stimulus sequences with simple or higher-order regularities. The para- meters that are needed for the acquisition of these skills are unknown, but probably involve initial attentive processing of the stimuli." — Elbert 1995

It's all about brain real estate

Neuro-scientists have learned that every skill has a corresponding plasticity that has been exploited. But there is a limit to our talents imposed by the physical size and number of neurons in our cranium. Often a valuable talent comes with a price. Development of one region of the brain means that limits are imposed on other potential sites. We often notice these idiosyncracies in talented celebrities who may lack common sense or suffer from personality problems.

An extreme example of plasticity gone wild is the so-called idiot savant who may be able to tell you the square root of a ten digit number or memorize a phone book but cannot tie his own shoes.

Neuro-Enhancement: the next big thing!

Imagine that you want to learn how to count cards — an activity useful in poker and blackjack but considered "cheating" by many casinos. Or perhaps you would like to hone your golf skills, improve your artistic abilities or learn to be more relaxed. These are all skills with corresponding potentials for neuro plasticity.

The utilization of multiple neural pathways and stimulation of the neural fields has been practiced for decades — even without a complete understanding of how or why these techniques work. The Montessori Schools have been achieving great results since the turn of the last century. Now, with a greater understanding of neuro fields and the benefits of multi-path stimulation, it is possible to target specific regions for enhancement. It is already a thriving business. Just google the words "neuro enhancement" and you will find 250,000 results. There's also a plethora of information on youtube. Like this:

 


Remember, your brain configuration determines your personality. You will become what you do.

For more about that, see part 2 – Who You Are.

 

Notes:

[1] Ferris Jebr, "Cortical Call Out: The Brain's Electric Field Creates a Feedback Loop That Synchronizes Neural Activity", Scientific American, July 2010

[2] Neuroplasticity in old age: Sustained fivefold induction of hippocampal neurogenesis by long-term environmental enrichment, Gerd Kempermann MD, Daniela Gast, Fred H. Gage PhD, Annals of Neurology Volume 52, Issue 2, pages 135–143, August 2002.

[3] Gomez-Pinilla, Fernando, Zhe Ying, Roland R. Roy, Raffaella Molteni, and V. Reggie Edgerton. Voluntary Exercise Induces a BDNF-Mediated Mechanism That Promotes Neuroplasticity. J. Neurophysiol. 88: 2187-2195, 2002.

 


 



Who You Are

New research shows that personality traits are mirrored by changes in our brains. These changes define who we are. To change your personality you need to reconfigure your brain!

by Dan Eden for viewzone

Are you an optimistic person? Do you care about the feelings or wellbeing of others? Or do you sometimes seem withdrawn and notice the bad things going on in the world… We all have our "ups and downs" and the kind of attitude we have towards life defines our personality. But what exactly is personality? And can it be changed?

Right now, as you are reading this, your assessment of the external world is being processed and filtered by your brain. While the brain has often been compared to a computer, it really does not have software. Most of what you retain, manipulate and categorize from the outside world is the result of hardware — the neurons and their components are physically rearranged.

This means that the kind of personality you have right now is the result of certain unique configurations within your brain. Yes, personality can and does change over time, but it requires similar changes to the structure of your brain. I hope to show you how this can be achieved in this article.

What exactly is personality?

Psychologists have had tests to measure personality for decades. The behavior that we most often exhibit is called a trait. And, for decades, there have been as many traits as there are adverbs to describe feelings. But that's changed now. Psychologists have rendered all of the possible traits down to five — The Big Five. And with this new approach to understanding personality has come the link between these five characteristics of personality and specific regions of the brain.

 

The Big Five — characteristics of personality:

  • Extraversion — (outgoing / energetic vs. shy / reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
     
  • Neuroticism — (sensitive / nervous vs. secure / confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.
     
  • Agreeableness — (friendly / compassionate vs. competitive / outspoken). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
     
  • Conscientiousness — (efficient / organized vs. easy-going / careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
     
  • Openness — (inventive / curious vs. cautious / conservative). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.

 

Kung Fu Psychology

In the martial arts there is a phenomenon called "muscle memory." A particular movement is practiced again and again — in slow motion at first, but then at lightening speeds. Eventually, a complex thrust or a defensive move involving many precise steps is encoded in the body's muscles where it can be executed perfectly without conscious thought. Our attitudes and emotions are like this also. We learn how to react to the outside world, often without having to make conscious decisions.

But what if our reactions are causing problems, like making is depressed or self-destructive? What if our personality keeps us feeling lonely or instigates conflicts with our family, friends or the law? Can anything be done?

I was watching a Steven Seagal movie recently and one of the antagonists in the film asked Seagal's Kung Fu character,

"Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights with the good dog all the time. Which dog wins?" To which Seagal answers, "The one I feed the most."

The wisdom in this riddle was recently demonstrated by a couple of scientific studies I think you need to know about.

The Dynamic Brain

Colin G. DeYoung [right] of the Psychology Department, University of Minnesota, and his colleges, recently published the results a study they conducted which linked personality traits to changes in specific regions of the brain. The study found significant correlations of increased and decreased volume in parts of the brain associated with the "Big Five" characteristics of human personality.

In their study, they had 116 adults take the standardized test which measures each of the Big Five personality characteristics. Then each subject was subjected to brain scans to measure specific regions in their brain. While these results will only be meaningful to a neurologist, the implications of these findings should have significance for each of us.

The Study

In a previous article on viewzone, Left Brain : Right Brain, I explained how our brains are actually two brains connected together by a bundle of nerves. Each side, or hemisphere, has certain characteristics for processing information. These can change depending on the dominant side, with each hemisphere controlling the opposite side of the body. That being the case, the DeYoung researchers used only right handed subjects to avoid that whole pandora's box. The subjects were also screened for any psychiatric disorders, brain injuries or drug use — things that could alter the parts of the brain they were measuring.

The subjects were given the Revised NEO Personality Inventory to assess their personality, then a 3-T Allegra System (Siemens, Erlangen, Germany) was used to acquire a high-resolution structural image — magnetization-prepared rapid gradient-echo (MPRAGE) — of their brains. Since people have different brain sizes, the proportions for each brain (including adjustments for sex and age) were taken into account.

 


For Extraversion, there was a significant association with volume in medial orbitofrontal cortex.

For Neuroticism, the two largest regions of association were in right dorsomedial PFC and in portions of the left medial temporal lobe, including posterior hippocampus, as well as portions of basal ganglia and midbrain, including globus pallidus and bilateral subthalamic nuclei. Both of these associations were negative, meaning the volume was decreased. There was an increase of volume seen bilaterally in the mod-cingulate cortex, extending to the cingulate gyrus and, in the left hemisphere, into the caudate. Additional regions not previously considered were also found to have significant increases in volume. These were the middle temporal gyrus and one in the cerebellum.

Conscientiousness was associated positively with volume in a region of lateral PFC extending across most of the left middle frontal gyrus. An unpredicted negative association with Conscientiousness was found in posterior fusiform gyrus.


For Agreeableness, there was a significant positive association in the retrosplenial region of posterior cingulate cortex and a significant negative association in superior temporal sulcus and adjacent superior temporal gyrus. An additional, unpredicted, positive association with Agreeableness was found in fusiform gyrus.

Openness showed no significant correlation to an increase in any specific region of the brain. It is thought that all of the other characteristics contribute to the functionality of this trait.

Huh? What does it mean?

The study demonstrates that our personality is hardwired and, to some extent, not entirely subject to our free will. We react to the word in different ways, depending on the volume of specific regions of our brain. A negative, withdrawn, pessimistic personality can not easily become optimistic and outgoing merely by deciding to change — at least not instantly. But does that mean our personality cannot change? No. Indeed it can.

I asked Dr. DeYoung about this:

 

Dan Eden: I have a rather obvious question… which came first, the chicken or the egg. Do we assume that the various regions of the brain increased because of personality traits, or are personality traits the result of the changes to these regions of the brain?

Dr. DeYoung: At some level personality must be controlled by the brain, since it's the brain that controls behavior, emotion, cognition, and motivation, and personality is simply stable patterns in those functions. However, our study provides no evidence that the size of these particular brain regions was the initial cause of people's personality. It is certainly possible, as you note, that engaging in extraverted behavior over a period of years led to extraverts' having on average larger OFCs, rather than that they had the larger OFC from birth and were therefore more extraverted.

We do know that behavior can alter the structure of the brain, even over a period of weeks, as evidenced by the attached article, showing increases in cortical thickness after learning how to juggle!

So our study doesn't answer the chicken-egg question.

 

While Dr. DeYoung could not answer the chicken and egg paradox, the article he sent me did. It was titled, Training-Induced Brain Structure Changes in the Elderly by Janina Boyke from The University of Hamburg. It gave me quite a bit of information that I didn't know before.

Juggling & the Brain

When I studied biology (decades ago) I was taught that we are born with a finite number of nerve cells in our brains. I think this was drummed into our mind to persuade us not sue use illegal drugs, as they supposedly killed brain cells which would never be replaced. It turns out that this is now known to be false.

As Dr. DeYoung told me:

 

"First of all, it's incorrect that neurons don't increase in number. That's an old and by now outdated assumption. There is neurogenesis even in adult human brains…"

To make this point, the Janina Boyke study used elderly subjects — thought least likely to be capable of regenerating neurons. A total of 93 elderly individuals of both genders were screened for any history of , Parkinson's disease, diabetes, or .

The subjects were given three magnetic resonance imaging () scans. One scan was given at the beginning of the experiment. Then, some of the volunteers of the study received three juggling balls and were instructed on how to learn a three-ball cascade. A group of control subjects received no training. After three months, the experimentsl subjects were all able to perform the skill and a second was taken of both the experimental and control groups. Then three more months passed, during which time the experimental subjects did not practice juggling and lost the ability. A final was then taken of all the subjects.

The study found a significant increase in the brain's gray matter in the experimental group (jugglers) following the acquisition of the training-induced juggling skill, then a decreased when the skill was lost. These changes were notable in the left frontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the left hippocampus, and the gyrus precentral on the right side.

Here's the BIG DEAL

The study with the elderly jugglers proves that the brain configures the neurons to process our ability to cope with the environment. This goes beyond juggling. Our brains change their hardwiring according to our behavior, eventually accommodating that behavior and making it less under the control of our conscious free will.

This means that our reaction to the world — the characteristics that make us who we are (personality) — become hardwired according to the kinds of behavior we engage in. It means that if we are in situations that allow for positive rewards from socializing, then we will become an outgoing person, full of optimism. On the contrary, if we are made to cope with fear, danger and , we will develop the hardwiring for being a withdrawn, pessimistic and negative person. If we are placed in a situation where we must plan ahead and maintain order, we will rise to the occasion, else we will be hardwired to lack self-discipline and be impulsive. The same is also true of compassion vs. competition.

"The one I feed the most."

The most impressive research on the effects of behavior on the human brain was done by Daniel G. Amen, MD, in his book "Change Your Brain Change Your Life." By meticulously alayzing brain scans from a number of patients who suffered from addiction, depression, obsessiveness, anger and impulsiveness, Dr. Amen proved beyond any doubt that these behaviors are linked to specific regions of the brain.

But that wasn't all that Dr. Amen discovered. He noted that successful therapy could be achieved by altering the behavior long enough to allow these regions of the brain to reconfigure. This, then, is the biological definition of a "cure" for mental illness. The therapy not only involved actual changes of lifestyles or patters however. Dr. Amen discovered that the brain could not discriminate between real and imaginary behavior. Thus, imagining a behavior, such as in visualization techniques, is an effective therapeutic method for curing the illness and changing the pathology in some personalities.

There was a book that went viral in 2006 ago called The Secret. The basic premise of the book was that visualization, a kind of meditative technique where an individual conjures up visual images of a desired goal, somehow causes this goal to be achieved. The book was marketed as a means to gain "wealth, love and happiness." Eventually the book was criticized by former believers and practitioners, with some going as far as claiming that the only people generating wealth and happiness from it are the author and the publishers. This gave visualization a bad name, and rightly so. It totally misrepresented the potentials of visualization by reinforcing negative behavior, such as greed, egocentricity and selfishness.

But in truth, correct visualization is a successful method for changing personality.

Lynne McTaggart, in her book The Intention Experiment, has shown that according to electromyography (EMG) experiments, the brain does not differentiate between the thought of an action and a real action. In an study with a group of skiers, EMG discovered that when they mentally rehearsed their downhill runs, the electrical impulses sent to the muscles were the same as when physically engaged in the runs.

According to Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, a psychiatrist, brain researcher and coach, the impact of visualization on brain activation has been well-demonstrated in cases of stroke. During a stroke, because of the blood clot in an artery in the brain, blood cannot reach the area of brain that the artery once fed with oxygen and nutrients, and the tissue dies. Tissue death spreads around the area that no longer receives blood. If, however, the patient imagines moving the affected limb or limbs, brain blood flow to the affected area increases and tissue death is minimised.

Pillay also emphasizes the importance of visualizing in the first person in order to reap the benefits. It is this which creates the experience of being in the self, thereby stimulating the neural pathways. The champion boxer Muhammed Ali was known to prepare for his fights by mentally rehearsing them in minute detail as if he were really in the ring. In The Intention Experiment, Lynne Mc Taggart says that when preparing for a fight with Joe Frazier, he would imagine "his right fist at the moment of impact on Frazier's left eye."

The point here is that thoughts have power. They can actually alter the structure of the brain and change our personality. While there is no "magic" that will bring wealth and happiness, the eventual changes to specific structures in our brains, brought about by visualization or , will bring abou changes that improve our lives.

Oh my God! What are we doing to our kids!

Realizing that thoughts and "virtual" reality are interpreted by our brains the same way as "reality" poses the question, "What about video games?"

The uses real battle simulations to numb recruits to the confusion and stress of killing the enemy. In many cases, the remote infrared imaging and targeting systems in the Apache helicopter and drones is indistinguishable from a video game. In a recent viral video showing US forces accidentally killing civilians and a journalist in Iraq, you can hear the conversations between officers and the gunners. It sounds like a football game instead of an actual assassination. This is because of their training with video simulation.

Not much is different from the video games that our kids are playing with these days. They are routinely exposed to killing the "enemy" in vivid detail with blood spattering and cries of pain coming from the villains. This is immediately followed by a positive reward, either in increased points or in being allowed to continue with the game. This "learning" is, to the human brain, no different from the actual experience, according to research.

New research by Iowa State University psychologists provides more concrete evidence of the adverse effects of violent video game exposure on the behavior of children and adolescents. The study found that even exposure to cartoonish children's violent video games had the same short-term effects on increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games. The study tested 161 9 to 12-year-olds, and 354 college students. Each participant was randomly assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game. "Violent" games were defined as those in which intentional harm is done to a character motivated to avoid that harm. The definition was not an indication of the graphic or gory nature of any violence depicted in a game.

The researchers selected one children's non-violent game ("Oh No! More Lemmings!"), two children's violent video games with happy music and cartoonish game characters ("Captain Bumper" and "Otto Matic"), and two violent T-rated video games ("Future Cop" and "Street Fighter"). For ethical reasons, the T-rated games were played only by the college-aged participants.

The participants subsequently played another computer game designed to measure aggressive behavior in which they set punishment levels in the form of noise blasts to be delivered to another person participating in the study. Additional information was also gathered on each participant's history of violent behavior and previous violent media viewing habits.

The researchers found that participants who played the violent video games — even if they were children's games — punished their opponents with significantly more high-noise blasts than those who played the non-violent games. They also found that habitual exposure to violent media was associated with higher levels of recent violent behavior — with the newer interactive form of media violence found in video games more strongly related to violent behavior than exposure to non-interactive media violence found in television and movies.

Another study detailed in the book surveyed 189 high school students. The authors found that respondents who had more exposure to violent video games held more pro-violent attitudes, had more hostile personalities, were less forgiving, believed violence to be more typical, and behaved more aggressively in their everyday lives. The survey measured students' violent TV, movie and video game exposure; attitudes toward violence; personality trait hostility; personality trait forgiveness; beliefs about the normality of violence; and the frequency of various verbally and physically aggressive behaviors.

The researchers were surprised that the relation to violent video games was so strong.

"We were surprised to find that exposure to violent video games was a better predictor of the students' own violent behavior than their gender or their beliefs about violence. Although gender aggressive personality and beliefs about violence all predict aggressive and violent behavior, violent video game play still made an additional difference. We were also somewhat surprised that there was no apparent difference in the video game violence effect between boys and girls or adolescents with already aggressive attitudes." –Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson

Then there is this study:

 

Psychologists Produce First Study On Violence Desensitization From Video Games

Research led by a pair of Iowa State University psychologists has proven for the first time that exposure to violent video games can desensitize individuals to real-life violence.

Nicholas Carnagey, an Iowa State psychology instructor and research assistant, and ISU Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson collaborated on the study with Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor now at the University of , and Vrije Universiteit, .

They authored a paper titled "The Effects of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-Life Violence," which was published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In this paper, the authors define desensitization to violence as "a reduction in emotion-related physiological reactivity to real violence."

Their paper reports that past research — including their own studies — documents that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors, and decreases helpful behaviors. Previous studies also found that more than 85 percent of video games contain some violence, and approximately half of video games include serious violent actions.

The methodology: Their latest study tested 257 college students (124 men and 133 women) individually. After taking baseline physiological measurements on heart rate and galvanic skin response — and asking questions to control for their preference for violent video games and general aggression — participants played one of eight randomly assigned violent or non-violent video games for 20 minutes. The four violent video games were Carmageddon, Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat or Future Cop; the non-violent games were Glider Pro, 3D Pinball, 3D Munch Man and Tetra Madness.

After playing a video game, a second set of five-minute heart rate and skin response measurements were taken. Participants were then asked to watch a 10-minute videotape of actual violent episodes taken from TV programs and commercially-released films in the following four contexts: courtroom outbursts, police confrontations, shootings and prison fights. Heart rate and skin response were monitored throughout the viewing.

The physical differences: When viewing real violence, participants who had played a violent video game experienced skin response measurements significantly lower than those who had played a non-violent video game. The participants in the violent video game group also had lower heart rates while viewing the real-life violence compared to the nonviolent video game group.

 

"The results demonstrate that playing violent video games, even for just 20 minutes, can cause people to become less physiologically aroused by real violence," said Carnagey. "Participants randomly assigned to play a violent video game had relatively lower heart rates and galvanic skin responses while watching footage of people being beaten, stabbed and shot than did those randomly assigned to play nonviolent video games.

"It appears that individuals who play violent video games habituate or 'get used to' all the violence and eventually become physiologically numb to it."

Participants in the violent versus non-violent games conditions did not differ in heart rate or skin response at the beginning of the study, or immediately after playing their assigned game. However, their physiological reactions to the scenes of real violence did differ significantly, a result of having just played a violent or a non-violent game. The researchers also controlled for trait aggression and preference for violent video games.

The researchers' conclusion: They conclude that the existing video game rating system, the content of much entertainment media, and the marketing of those media combine to produce "a powerful desensitization intervention on a global level."

"It (marketing of video game media) initially is packaged in ways that are not too threatening, with cute cartoon-like characters, a total absence of blood and gore, and other features that make the overall experience a pleasant one," said Anderson. "That arouses positive emotional reactions that are incongruent with normal negative reactions to violence. Older children consume increasingly threatening and realistic violence, but the increases are gradual and always in a way that is fun.

 

"In short, the modern entertainment media landscape could accurately be described as an effective systematic violence desensitization tool," he said. "Whether modern societies want this to continue is largely a public policy question, not an exclusively scientific one."

 

The researchers hope to conduct future research investigating how differences between types of entertainment — violent video games, violent TV programs and films — influence desensitization to real violence. They also hope to investigate who is most likely to become desensitized as a result of exposure to violent video games. "Several features of violent video games suggest that they may have even more pronounced effects on users than violent TV programs and films," said Carnagey.

["The Effects of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-Life Violence," Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (July 2006).]

 

Using the BIG FIVE

by Herando Fuentes

Let's have a look at the Big Five personality traits again and examine where we might want to make changes.

Becoming more extroverted— Being an extrovert has many positive benefits. There are more social and occupational opportunities and it's always healthier to mingle with others and not get too focused on yourself. To "become" the extrovert, you first have to act like one. Joining clubs and groups is a good start. Also, just going places where there are lots of people is beneficial. Your brain is looking to accommodate your behavior and will soon develop patterns that enable you to start conversations, become interested in other people's lives and find positive stimulus from these kinds of activities.

Force yourself to start a conversation with a stranger or to feel comfortable in a crowd. Visualize yourself in a room full of people, enjoying conversation and being outgoing.

A cure for neuroticism— Having a pessimistic view of the world is a form of self-torture. Often this trait is the result of some past pain and it is fed by unreasonable fear. Knowing that there is likely a brain structure responsible for this trait, you should understand that it can be changed. Often pessimism goes along with being introverted. The solution is to begin changing the behavior to seek positive reinforcement from things that make you happy.

Happiness is an individual phenomenon. It may be a hobby or activity, a friendship — even having pets has transformed many neurotic people by distracting them from their destructive behavior and allowing their brains to reconfigure to accommodate the relationship with a cat or dog. Here is an excellent use of visualization to imagine some pleasant experience, real or remembered, that can be replayed in consciousness to establish and grow new neural pathways and shrink those contributing to negative obsessions.

Learning to be agreeable— There is a phenomenon in psychology called "Theory of Mind." Theory of Mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own. It sounds pretty simple, but many people lack this ability to some degree.

Thinking that everyone should think or feel the same as you do is a recipe for arguments and conflict when they don't. Using your intellect and imagination, it is possible to "get inside" even the most difficult person and try to empathize with their point of view. Being agreeable is a characteristic that is taught by religions, such as Christianity and Buddhism. "Do not to others as you would have them do to you." Often, adherence to this kind of philosophy will be enough to change your personality so that you actually become a tolerant and compassionate being.

Being Conscientious— The biggest promoter of this characteristic is military service. Being forced to adhere to a regimented schedule and to follow orders for many weeks turns almost every soldier into a model of conscientiousness. Lack of this kind of characteristic can lead to obesity (from being impulsive about food choices) and a shortened life (by making bad decisions about the future, such as smoking cigarettes or using addictive drugs). It can also cause economic failure (not following a budget) and a life full of problems. It is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing to change.

But since we now realize that conscientiousness is associated with a configuration of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) we know it can be changed. Since boot camp is a highly effective model, the same approach could be adopted to train the brain. Set a schedule for awakening, times to eat, what food to eat, and continue the organization to include making your bed, putting everything around you in its special place, making and keeping to a budget (writing down everything you spend money on) and keeping a daily log of what you have done.

Remember, this extreme behavior is to allow your behavior time to reconfigure your brain, and your personality.

Openness and Intellect— In their study, Dr. DeYoung did not find any specific region of the brain associated with either openness or intelligence. Rather, it is the ability of the balance and bandwidth of the other traits that allow for the full functioning of personality which is necessary for these characteristics. One can easily see how being socially extroverted, unafraid of life, compassionate and orderly wold contribute to an openness to aesthetics and new ideas. And with new ideas comes increased information and intellect.

 

Common Sense

Much of what I have reported here is common sense, for sure. The plasticity of personality is something that has been theorized for decades. With the proof that there is corresponding plasticity of the brain, we now can begin to make leaps with a new cognitive model for psychological change. Perhaps we can finally bury the outdated theories of Freudian psychotherapy and our reliance on drugs to solve our personality problems.

What do you think?

Copyright 2011 Gary Vey of viewzone.com

Pulished on Lit Corner with permission from ViewZone.com

Source: ViewZone.com